Tina Fey doggie-paddles through a sea of blandness in this weak comedy-drama set in the crazy world of an Ivy League admissions dept.
Even though Jason Bateman does not star in this film, nor does his name appear anywhere within a five mile radius of its cast and crew list, Admission is – for all intent and purpose – a Jason Bateman movie. The Bateman manqué here is Tina Fey, gladly essaying a bland, mildly-officious desk jockey whose world is spun off its tidy axis by the incessant hectoring of the eccentric, the poor and the eccentric poor.
The subject matter of Admission promises, if not great, then mildly interesting things: Fey is a bulldogish Princeton admissions officer who is on the prowl for the next catchment of bright (financially entitled) young things while desperate to impress her line manager (Wally Shawn) so that she might once day slink into his padded office chair when he retires. The complex ethical minutiae of this process is, alas, excised wholesale as the film goes on to chart her ditsy adventures in enforced motherhood as one of her applicants might, it transpires, be the estranged son she secretly put up for adoption when she was a teen.
We don't know what Admission "is". We don't know if Admission knows what Admission "is". It's not serious and thoughtful enough for drama and it's not funny enough to be comedy (and we can't emphasise this second point enough – there is one joke in the entire film, relating to racist jockey lawn statues). Fey's comic chops are certainly not stretched beyond a series of mugging reaction shots and the odd moment of textbook ritual humiliation.
Maybe pigeonholers out there will have to be satisfied with "light dramady" or "issues comerama", or something? Its makers seem loathe to do or say anything that might alienate the writhing middlebrow mass they've identified as their audience. Even Paul Rudd, who plays the dean of a new, alternative high school that teaches its pupils the ills of capitalism and how to dig irrigation ditches, seems like he's been forced to dial back his wide-eyed schitck to the point where there's no real point in him being there.
Fey, too, is given very little to work with, as director Paul Weitz steers her through a series of comic situations that are so rote, you begin to think there might be some strange meta-satirical edge to the material. So, we get to see her jazz-handing and "ewww!"-ing while being forced to deliver a baby cow, getting repeatedly humiliated by her shitdog ex-boyfriend who's knocked up a Woolf scholar, and watching in despair as her militant feminist mother (Lily Tomlin) man hates from her kitchen while preparing sausage.
Perhaps the main problem with Admission is that it takes as read that Princeton – or any Ivy League institution – is awesome and everyone who wants to go there is awesome by association. Sure, it cautiously mocks the preppy rich kids and the close-harmony barbershop groups they inevitably form, but the whole story is predicated on the fact that Nat Wolff's nebbish, Kaspar Hauser-ish autodidact is desperate to go to Princeton, despite the fact that he really doesn't need to and, to be honest, wouldn't really fit in. And would you believe it? Admissions officers are prone to nepotism and major lapses in ethical comportment – it's what makes us human, apparently.
Rudd and Fey – this could at the very least generate a few textbook titters?
This is comedy with zero pulse.
The action is set in Princeton, it might as well be set in a suburban dog pound for all the interest it has in that world.