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Tina Fey and Paul Rudd deftly blend comedy and drama in 'Admission'

 

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are a dream team in the light-hearted drama “Admission.” Sure, one would expect a film with Fey and Rudd to be an uproarious comedy, and while “Admission” dips its big toe into the rom-com pool, it’s more a feathery drama than an all-out laugher. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The two comedic actors were long overdue to star together and seeing them in a more dramatic film is actually pretty great.

Fey is Portia, a 16-year veteran Princeton University admissions officer, and like a talent scout, travels the country looking for suitable Princeton applicants. Complacent, comfortable and a little OCD in her existence, Portia wants nothing to change. However, when she meets John Pressman (Rudd), the owner of an alternative New England high school, her perfect little world is unraveled. 

Pressman introduces Portia to Jeremiah, a prodigy who is eager to attend Princeton despite having a background that is anything but Princeton “material.” Portia is quick to write off the kid until Pressman drops a bomb on her: Jeremiah is her son who she put up for adoption while in college.  With her life now in shambles, Portia sets about to help Jeremiah beat the system and get into the Ivy League school.  

Oh, and of course she falls for Paul Rudd, too.

Fey is in rare form here. She sneaks in her signature and charming quips that made “30 Rock’s” Liz Lemon such a great character, but she also is very convincing during the more weighty and emotional moments. She pulls off a very tough balancing act with such ease. Rudd, too, has been a comedic actor with a dramatic core just waiting to burst out and “Admission” is finally his moment. He has always been enjoyable in his comedies, but “Admission” proves he has much more to offer and hopefully this is just the beginning of a more varied movie career.

“Admission” also stars the great Lily Tomlin as Fey’s reclusive feminist mother. Tomlin is very entertaining as her usual ballsy character and her moments with Fey are a nearly perfect combination of two generations of comedy. Following Tomlin is another great off-beat character actor, Wallace Shawn, as Fey’s retiring Dean of Admissions. Stacking this light drama with a roster of talented comedians makes for an interesting tone, and one that shouldn’t go unappreciated.

Based on the book by Jean Hanff Korelitz, “Admission” also shows the cynical side of the admissions process into a prestigious Ivy League university (Princeton, in this case). With all the backroom politics and elaborate drama that goes into the process, it is surprising Princeton even let this film use its name, not that this little movie would ever deter anyone from applying.

Director Paul Weitz (“About A Boy”) and screenwriter Karen Croner do a decent job at not over-accentuating the emotional moments. The film already walks a fine line between comedy and drama and it could easily get pushed into a sappy overkill, but luckily Weitz and Croner, as well as the nuanced performances by Fey and Rudd, spare us from going there.

The pacing of the film is not always consistent. Portions are plodding while others are brisk and light. Most noticeably is a tacked-on fourth act (though understandably needed) after what feels like a seemingly final third act making the film feel a bit longer than it actually is.

But in an over-crowded slate of shoot-em-ups and creepy-crawlies, “Admission” is a much needed reprieve for adults at the movies.

MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour and 47 minutes.

 

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