Let me preface this post by saying I love Tina Fey. She’s fabulous, talented, amazing, and I love her…but I didn’t like her in her new movie Admission. I know that’s blasphemy, but I already feel really guilty about it, so you don’t have to yell at me. I know that as a woman and a writer and a student of comedy, I’m supposed to be obsessed with everything she does, and for the most part I am. I wanted to love Admission, but I just couldn’t, and I have a theory on why.
The plot of the movie centers around Tina’s character, Portia Nathan, who works as an admissions officer at Princeton, which is apparently the most difficult school in the US to get into. She’s great at her job, in a long-term passionless relationship with Michael Sheen, and never has any cause to self-evaluate. UNTIL! Turns out that Michael’s character, Mark, has been having an affair and gotten his mistress pregnant, so he’s leaving. And then Paul Rudd shows up as John Pressman, the dean? principal? of an alternative school where they put their arms in cow butts and are encouraged to challenge authority. John wants Portia to come visit his school and to meet one student in particular, Jeremiah, played by Nate Wolff who he thinks is Portia’s son that she gave up in college. GASP! Intrigue! Portia’s life is now in shambles, a fact emphasized when she goes to visit her mother, Lily Tomlin, who has absolutely no need for her, to the point that she didn’t even tell her daughter she had a mastectomy. Okay, whatever.
So now that she suspects Jeremiah of being her son, Portia starts showing up like ONCE A WEEK at his alternative high school and like, slipping him and John study materials and maternal glances and stuff. Which is totally normal and acceptable for an admissions officer and wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. She also begins a romantic relationship with Paul Rudd, which is equally normal and acceptable, and not at all inappropriate to her job. So that’s what we’re working with, plot-wise. Not super grounded or relatable; mostly big, unbelievable characters doing things like announcing their affairs right before a dinner party while their pregnant mistress honks outside. Again, totally normal and acceptable human behavior. So this is where the Tina Fey stuff comes in. Tina is an excellent writer, which anyone who watched 30 Rock or read Bossypants is incredibly aware of. What she isn’t is an excellent actor. She’s great at playing herself, specifically when she’s written herself (Mean Girls, anyone?), but when someone else is doing the writing and it’s sub-par, it gets a little tricky.
Particularly when it comes to sexual chemistry, Tina really doesn’t excel. Her character is supposed to have major sparks flying with Paul Rudd, and they’re flying off him pretty significantly, and then sort of just…hanging in the air around Tina while she says words that I don’t really believe. Which actually makes a lot of sense, when you think about it! Tina wasn’t trained as an actor. She came up in the improv world and mostly did sketches on Saturday Night Live or her own writing, in which she steered away from things she didn’t like, such as sexual intimacy and emotion. Think about Liz Lemon — all her relationships were very chaste, and any moment that even approached emotion was quickly tempered with a meatball sub or a self-deprecating joke. Which I love! That’s Tina’s brand, and I’m obsessed with it and jealous of how great she is at it! But when another writer less-skilled than her asks her to behave like someone other than Tina Fey, it’s not quite believable, and she comes off kind of flat. Example: was anyone else super disappointed by Baby Mama? And then subsequently super disappointed in themselves for being disappointed in it?
This isn’t to say that Tina never has good moments in the movie, or even great ones that made me laugh out loud, but you really need a strong actor to rise above the crappy-ish writing of Admission, and Tina isn’t quite there yet, as much as it pains me to say it. Blerg.