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Philippe Thompson Written by Philippe Thompson
Mar. 22, 2013 | 3:25 PM

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By J. Philippe Thompson

Princeton Admissions Officer Portia Nathan’s (Tina Fey) last lines of ADMISSION, “What’s the secret to getting in?” Find out yourself,” serve as the final answer to the question posed throughout the film.

Yet getting into Princeton, however, is not the esoteric secret that Director Paul Weitz portrays it to be.  The film does not shed any new light on the college admissions process and merely plays out a series of predicable admittance/rejection scenarios until it addresses Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a gifted yet unconventional student, whose teacher, John Pressman (Paul Rudd) feels should attend Princeton.  To complicate matters, Pressman believes Jeremiah to be the son Portia gave up for adoption years ago when they attended college together.

Because Portia blindly believes Jeremiah to be her son, and feels guilt for giving him up for adoption, she risks losing her job and her “perfect life” in order to help him get into Princeton.  Ultimately, the Admission Committee, headed by Dean Clarence (Wallace Shawn), denies Jeremiah.  The film misses some great comedic opportunities with Wallace Shawn in these scenes, but does manage to hit the mark with Portia’s shotgun-toting mother Susannah (Lily Tomlin).

Dean Clarence fires Portia after she knowingly changes the decision on Jeremiah’s files.  Jeremiah still makes it into Princeton, but only because the retiring Clarence does not want any last minute controversy to tarnish his record.

At the film’s climax, Pressman convinces Portia to reveal herself to Jeremiah as his birth mother, but when she does so, Jeremiah points out an error on the birth certificate Pressman obtained.  Shocked and dismayed, Portia runs from Pressman and a confused Jeremiah.  She seeks out her mother Susannah for advice and answers.  After an emotional exchange with her mother, Portia realizes she has something special with Pressman and the two reconcile.  Portia does reach out to find the son she gave up for adoption, but he is not ready to meet her by the film’s end.

Even though we don’t get to see “the reunion” between Portia and her birth son as is typical in most comedies, romantic or not, the narrative resolves organically around Portia, happily rejoined by her fiery mother, and her newfound love interest Pressman.  ADMISSION yearns to be a smart, romantic comedy, but it better functions as a drama, with a few comedic moments shoe-horned to showcase Fey’s signature deadpan humor.

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