Admission (“My Take On A Bipolar Film”)

16 Apr

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Synopsis: “A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 57 minutes)

It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama…It’s a comedy AND a drama!

Sometimes you can’t have it both ways. You just need to stand your ground, choose a direction to take, and run with it. Otherwise you find yourself stuck in the weird purgatory of a dramedy that doesn’t quite work, and you’re left with a so-so movie that nobody sees or talks about like Admission. It’s a shame, because it’s a movie that actually has so much going for it:

-The actors are popular and extremely well-liked. This includes Tina Fey, who as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, or Sarah Palin on SNL, has become America’s (goofy) Sweetheart . It’s hard not to find her both funny and endearing. You also have Paul Rudd who seems like one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood today with 3 movies last year plus a stint on Parks & Recreation (possibly the funniest show on network TV today). Is it even possible to dislike the guy? I’m definitely a big fan, whether he’s playing a sweet guy as he did in I Love You, Man, or even when he’s playing a bit of a jerk as he did in Role Models; he’s always so entertainingly charming and funny.

-Director Paul Weitz is someone I REALLY want to see make a great movie again. He started with American Pie which everyone enjoyed (assuming they had a raunchy sense of humor), and soon made two movies in a row which were rare dramedies that worked incredibly well. The first was About A Boy, arguably Hugh Grant’s best work, an absolutely hilarious and touching film that fired on all cylinders. If you have never seen it you should make that a priority. (SIDE NOTE: Nicholas Hoult, the little boy from that movie has grown up to become the lead actor in two movies I have reviewed and enjoyed this very year: Warm Bodies, and Jack The Giant Slayer.) Weitz then made another very good dramedy starring Dennis Quaid  and Topher Grace, called In Good Company. Unfortunately, that was back in 2004, and he hasn’t impressed anyone with a movie since.

-A dramedy is a difficult genre to master since you don’t want to be too funny and you lose your authenticity, and you can’t go too serious or it becomes an unfunny drama. But since this same director had made a few successful ones (as mentioned above) I was hoping he of all people could make it work. Unfortunately, something in the direction of the performances, or in the actual writing didn’t translate onto the screen, and the actors were left being their usual charming selves in a movie where that created a confusing tone that just didn’t work.

Allow me to bring in a personal example that perfectly illustrates what happened. This week my friends Chari and Sara organized an extremely creative surprise party for Chari’s husband Eli, where some friends competed in a version of Chopped, while others including myself were the judges. In this game the contestants were given a few seemingly random ingredients and were then given 10 minutes to gather supplies, followed by 20 minutes to create some sort of concoction out of those ingredients. The result ideally must work as a creative and tasty dish. Some were better than others, but at one point possibly the most delicious creation came from my friend Noah, who can cook most people under the table. The trouble was, he and his teammate took the ingredients that don’t easily work together, and actually made two different dishes. Each morsel was separately scrumptious, but we realized that they didn’t actually make it one single dish because it would be difficult to make those tastes work together as one. Admission took its two different tastes, and just threw them in a pot together and hoped for the best. (SIDE NOTE: We felt awful doing it since it was absolutely delicious, but we “chopped” Noah’s dish due to what we decided was deviating from the rules, even though it was culinarily the right choice!)

Not that this is what happened, but in my imagination the studio had a serious script, hired a few box office draws who are AMAZING with comedy, and someone freaked out when they weren’t utilizing those comedic actors; thus they went back and peppered the script with some silly and zany scenes that took full advantage of Rudd and Fey. The trouble was that those scenes just didn’t work in the context of a woman dealing with her mother (played as an eccentric feminist by Lily Tomlin) having  a mastectomy, or a  dull British professor (played by the usually wonderful Michael Sheen) leaving Tina Fey for another woman. Every time you saw Michael Sheen on the screen, it involved some sort of bumbling, unfunny slapstick; and Lily Tomlin was meant to be a comically eccentric woman, but you couldn’t get past the fact that she was a sad, sad character. (In one awful throwaway gag of “what were they thinking?!”, Tomlin’s fake replacement post-mastectomy breasts slid over, so she looked “hilariously” funny. Except the movie wasn’t enough of a comedy to make a rare cancer joke work, and instead you were left wondering what the hell the writer was thinking.

Karen Croner had last written a movie 15 years ago in 1998, the solid Meryl Streep cancer drama One True Thing, and somehow landed the job as the only screenwriter for this dramedy. It felt like she didn’t know whether Admission should be serious or funny, so instead she made it a bit of both, where you were meant to care about the characters in the way a drama wants you to care, but then Tina Fey still said inane things as if she was back in 30 Rock. As the viewer you just KNEW it wasn’t authentic – it completely clashed with the tone.

What’s ironic is that I actually enjoyed the two different types of movies that were there, but not both of them together. I liked watching two of my favorite actors on screen acting with one another, and being naturally funny. And I enjoyed the drama of a woman who has remained emotionally disconnected from students applying to Princeton for years, until she finally woke up and started to care TOO much when one could be her son. But melding those two movies into one was like watching a cautionary tale of what NOT to do in film school. That’s the thing with dramedies, it’s hard to put your finger on what makes one work authentically (Silver Linings PlaybookAbout A Boy), versus when the combinations of drama and comedy just create a bit of a mess.

The actor who played her son was Nat Wolff, lead singer and keyboardist of the Nickelodeon show The Naked Brothers Band. He played the role with a cross between cute awkwardness, and someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The problem is that I started off by accepting that he had Asperger’s, but soon realized he was just meant to be a sweet genius with nothing odd or “off” about him. Literally the first scene in the movie represented his personality one way, and the rest of the movie switched gears and he was totally “normal” (unless you consider “smart” to be abnormal), and it was Tina Fey who acted like a buffoon, creating yet another tonal disparity.

I didn’t actually dislike the movie. Being the rather easygoing movie-lover that I am, I had a good time watching it in spite of my many criticisms; but it had such potential to become a good movie with these same talented actors that I was really disappointed it didn’t come together properly. Every time I would finally start to get involved in the story, Tina Fey would suddenly have a comically (and pathetically) goofy run-in with Michael Sheen, and it would just lose me all over again.

The movie was better than Rob Reiner’s Alex & Emma, a forgettably bad movie that took the comedic Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, and didn’t know what to do with them in the dramatic scenes. It was however hugely disappointing compared to Paul Weitz’s brilliant About A Boy, which was part of the reason I felt so let-down by this one.

Quality Rating: C (The actors did a fine job across the board with the material they had, I just strongly question the material itself)

Boaz Rating: B-

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14 Responses to “Admission (“My Take On A Bipolar Film”)”

  1. Linda Hepner April 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    EXCELLENT writing. You are extremely prolix but I’m sure if you were given a CERTAIN NUMBER OF WORDS (get it, son?) you would rein yourself in! 

    >________________________________ > From: Boaz’s Movie Obsession >To: lrhepner@yahoo.com >Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:19 AM >Subject: [New post] Admission (“My Take On A Bipolar Film”) > > > > WordPress.com >boazconstrictor posted: ” Synopsis: “A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 57 ” >

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      Maybe like Dickens I’m paid by the word! 🙂
      Some movies I certainly have less to talk about than others, but all hopefully are good reads and well written!

      Like

  2. 13movies April 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    I have not seen this one, but I’ll probably still have to watch it out of sheer curiosity. I like Paul Rudd, not a huge fan of Tina Fey.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      It’s not as if I’m telling people not to see it, I certainly have no regrets and still mostly enjoyed it, I just couldn’t help but find way too much to criticize unfortunately!

      Like

      • 13movies April 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

        It seems like too many movies are like that these days.

        Like

  3. boazconstrictor April 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    True, but some much more watchable than others, and I’m a VERY easy audience to please 🙂

    Like

  4. Tim McFarlane April 19, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    Good to know. I’m going to have to check this movie out now.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 19, 2013 at 9:50 am #

      Love that the many criticisms are what make you want to see it even more! lol

      Like

  5. Josh April 19, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Movies like this are terribly predictable. So much so, that I can’t really stand watching them anymore. Personally, I find Paul Rudd to look and act the same in all his movies, and Tina Fey, being the comedic genius that she is, should stick to TV and leave movies alone. 90+ minutes of her is too much for me. If this comes out on Netflix as an instant watch, I’ll probably check it out, but can already see my self fast forwarding. Next….

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 19, 2013 at 10:33 am #

      Lol, you’re way harsher than I am w/ movies, and especially Paul Rudd who I can’t get enough of! But I understand what you’re saying, I just still have my wide-eyed innocent love for movies untainted still so even the churn-them-out typical ones I will usually still enjoy.
      In fact even this one which had more flaws than most I still got a kick out of, but man were there a lot of flaws…

      Like

  6. table9mutant April 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Good review! One I’d probably wait for on DVD, though, and then I’d only really watch it for my little crush on Paul Rudd.

    Like

  7. boazconstrictor April 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    LOL, I guess if I had to have a man-crush on anyone, he’s be it, ever since Clueless!

    Like

  8. Sarah July 9, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Spoiler alert
    Ok..I realizes after watching it that the entire concept was wrong!
    So Tina’s character was supposed to have a baby on Valentine’s day at 1.
    But since the boy was born at 11 since his mom didn’t want him to be born in Valentine’s day, it would be an entirely different date!!!
    Did I miss something? Or am I the only one to catch that they totally missed the date on the birth certificate?
    (On a side note, I actually really enjoyed the movie!!!)

    Like

    • boazconstrictor July 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

      That’s hilarious, I can’t remember the details of that enough now to be sure, but it sounds correct, nice catch!
      Glad you enjoyed it, my fiancee just watched it this past week and liked it too, but I still feel like it didn’t know what type of movie it wanted to be!

      Like

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