There was a time when Paul Weitz used to make great movies. After reviving the teen sex comedy with “American Pie” and adapting the Nick Hornby bestseller “About a Boy” alongside brother Chris, the eldest Weitz stepped out on his own, continuing his fantastic track record with underrated gems like “In Good Company” and “American Dreamz.” In recent years, however, the director’s career has been marred by a series of flops, and though “Admission” is probably the best of his cinematic failures, it’s a failure nonetheless. Not even Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, arguably two of Hollywood’s most likable performers, are able to do much to save Weitz’s latest effort, and that only makes “Admission” even more of a disappointment.
Fey stars as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University who spends her days diligently poring over student applications and her nights with her dull, longtime boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen), who also works at the university as an English literature professor. When she receives a call one day from John Pressman (Rudd), a teacher at the alternative academy New Quest, asking her to visit the campus to meet a promising student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), she’s completely blindsided by John’s suggestion that the gifted teen is the child she gave up for adoption nearly 20 years earlier. Though Jeremiah is far from the typical Princeton applicant, he’s a prodigy and self-proclaimed autodidact who wants nothing more than to attend the university. But while Portia comes to appreciate Jeremiah the more time that she spends with him, she faces an uphill battle convincing her peers that he’s worth the risk, all while hiding the fact that he may be her son.
Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2009 novel of the same name, “Admission” had the potential to be a good movie, but it’s hampered by a major identity crisis. Weitz can’t seem to decide whether he’s making a comedy or a drama, and although it’s being marketed as the former, with the exception of a few chuckles here and there, the film is almost completely devoid of laughs. Michael Sheen is the only consistently funny character in the movie, even if it is a fairly one-note role, and it offers a glimpse at what “Admission” could have been. After all, Weitz has proven before that he can adeptly balance both genres, but the execution here is so poor that they just end up clashing.
The same could be said of its two stars. While Tina Fey and Paul Rudd sound like a comedy dream team on paper, they have zero chemistry as romantic leads, and it makes their inevitable hookup feel even more awkward as a result. Disney Channel graduate Nat Wolff shows promise as the eccentric teen, and veteran actors Wallace Shawn and Lily Tomlin add some nice color in supporting roles, but it’s not enough to make up for the film’s tonal inconsistency and tediously long 117-minute runtime. “Admission” is exactly the kind of predictable, rom-com drivel that Fey has spent most of her career defying, and though her undeniable charm and wit makes the movie a little easier to endure, she’d be better off if she stuck to writing her own material.