Film Review by Kam Williams
Princeton Provides Setting for Adaptation of Best Seller about College Application Process
Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) has worked for 16 years in the admissions office at Princeton, the college regularly rated the best in the country by experts. Because of her pivotal role in picking prospective students for the highly-selective Ivy League institution, the highly-principled administrator often finds herself approached by pushy, helicopter parents seeking preferential treatment for their children.
That’s why she prides herself on never having compromised the integrity of the application process, a commitment also appreciated by the outgoing Dean of Admissions (Wallace Shawn). In fact, he’s recently indicated that upon his impending retirement, he’s prepared to recommend either her or the equally-dedicated Corinne (Gloria Reuben) as his replacement.
That announcement jumpstarts a fierce competition between the two colleagues which soon has Portia venturing to New Hampshire in search of qualified candidates. There, she visits an alternative high school whose handsome principal, John Pressman (Paul Rudd) had been a classmate of hers at Dartmouth. Sparks fly, but nothing transpires, because she’s in a committed relationship.
Instead, John just pressures Portia to interview Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a bright but underachieving student with a woeful academic transcript. She has no problem dismissing the kid out of hand until the headmaster slips her a birth certificate showing that he’s the son she surrendered for adoption as a baby.
Suddenly, Portia’s maternal instincts kick in and she finds herself on the horns of a dilemma. Should reject this candidate who is clearly not Princeton material, or should she bend the rules for her own flesh and blood? After all, it’s the least she could do, since she played no part in raising him.
That is the conundrum at the heart of Admission a delightful, romantic dramedy directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie). Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s best seller of the same name, the film offers a very revealing peek at the cutthroat, college entrance process from the gatekeepers’ point of view.
Besides the temptation of nepotism, the film revolves around the tender romance between Portia and John which conveniently has a chance to blossom when she’s abandoned by her philandering boyfriend (Michael Shannon) upon returning home from New Hampshire. Meanwhile, intriguing subplots abound involving a cornucopia of colorful support characters.
For instance, itinerant bachelor John has an adopted African son (Travaris Spears) who craves the sort of predictability his settling down with a stable woman might provide. And Portia needs to mend fences with her estranged mother (Lily Tomlin), a breast cancer survivor who in turn might benefit from the attention of an ardent admirer (Olek Krupa). Additional sidebars feature memorable cameos by Roby Sobieski (Leelee’s little brother), Asher Muldoon (author Korelitz’s son) and an emerging ingénue in Nadia Alexander.
An alternately comical and thought-provoking cautionary tale that’s every bit as hilarious as it is sobering.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and some sexuality
Running time: 117 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
To see a trailer for Admission, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6fp8KswbCE