** (out of four)
About seven weeks after the end of “30 Rock” we get … a Tina Fey movie that may as well be about Liz Lemon.
In “Admission,” workaholic, Valentine’s Day-hating Portia (Fey) isn’t good with kids and can’t get her life in order (admittedly a common problem for female leads in weak romantic comedies). Hell, in her role as an admissions officer for Princeton, Portia constantly searches for deal-breakers in the academic red flags that deem thousands of students unworthy of the university's roughly 1,300 available slots.
Too bad writer Karen Croner’s (“One True Thing”) adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel has neither the wit nor the comic and emotional surprise of an average “30 Rock” episode. On her routine scouting travels—away from her longtime boyfriend (Michael Sheen) who treats her like a pet, natch—Portia visits a developmental New Hampshire school, where John (Paul Rudd) teaches classes like “third world development” to refreshingly independent thinkers. He also emphatically recommends that Portia get to know prospective Princeton candidate Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a student who no one seems to realize appears to be a savant with Asperger’s.
“I think Jeremiah’s your son,” John says, the kind of statement that may as well come with a DJ scratching off the music as the main character double-takes and gasps, “What?!”
Frustratingly, neither John nor Portia acknowledges the inherent conflict of interest in a woman going to bat for a kid that could be the child she gave up for adoption. Instead, director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy,” “Little Fockers”) indulges lame gags like John talking about yanking a cow’s udder while on the phone with Portia and a renowned scholar falling for Portia’s fiery, gun-wielding mom (Lily Tomlin). The script spoon-feeds every emotional touchstone. John’s adopted Ugandan son Nelson (Travaris Spears) wishes they wouldn’t travel around so much, a major road block in terms of any romance between John and Portia. Howdoya think that’s resolved?
Rudd improves upon his generic do-gooder character, but Fey is stuck in familiar territory, unable to liven up a script whose introductory and climactic voiceover are one of many reasons this movie is undeserving of the Ivy League. The idea seems to be that you can’t know students based on what they look like on paper, but “Admission” shows that onscreen excellence still has to exist first on paper, before casting tries to take over.
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