The new film Admission differs drastically enough from the source material novel of the same name that original writer Jean Hanff Korelitz was given the opportunity to address it, presumably with the consent of studio p.r. mavens given her willingness to simultaneously extoll her satisfaction with the cinematic version. The main alteration that caught her attention was the acceleration of a key revelation to the main character (which has been largely left out of the promotion for the film, so I’ll also avoid the detail in question), moving it from the back end of the novel to very early in the film, ostensibly affecting a radical change on the dynamics of the story. That may well be the most notable change from page to screen–I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t say for certain, I will admit–but there seems a whole other, more problematic shift lurking at the heart of Admission. There are elements of an interesting, cynically observant movie scratching at the surface of the narrative, trying to assert themselves. That’s the material the feels novelistic, pumping with depth and insight. It all just can’t compete with the tired modern romantic comedy trappings that are the sad lifeblood of the film.
Tina Fey plays Portia, an admissions counselor for Princeton who is feeling particular pressure on recruiting season because of the college’s slip from the top of the U.S. News and World Report rankings and the imminent retirement of her boss (Wallace Shawn), the latter meaning that the rare chance for a promotion is theoretically on the line. At around the same time that these dual motivators simultaneously fall into place, Portia is contacted by John (Paul Rudd), the director of an alternative high school. He invites her to the school, in part to pitch the elite institution of higher learning to his counter-culturally-inclined students, but really to connect her with one particular outstanding young man, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). Despite some of the unique undercurrents to the story, Admission largely proceeds in predictable fashion. In particular, Portia and John gradually fall in love, not because it makes much sense in any way given the presentation of the characters, but because they’re the two leads and that’s the way this sort of movie works. Both Fey and Rudd have nice enough moments, but there’s no consistency to the characters, and there’s only so much they can do to bind the conflicting fragments together.
Maybe the most problematic aspect of the film is the way it deliberately buffs out all the distinctiveness in favor of an utterly mundane, high gloss feel, an approach that can surely be laid at the feet of director Paul Weitz. He previously crafted a warmly flavorful comedy that hits some similar beats with the Nick Hornby adaptation About a Boy, released in 2002, although that one was made in tandem with his brother. That film, whatever its flaws, had a voice and a point of view. Admission bears the unseemly marks of many hands, all of them taking a turn to finesse it into the least offensive finished product possible. They’ve succeeded in that counterproductive task to the point of ending up with something that is completely, sorrowfully bland.