“Thank you, sad lady”
When your movie depends on its unorthodox relationship between star (Tina Fey‘s Princeton admissions officer, Portia) and central plot device (Nat Wolff‘s soon-to-be high school graduate dreaming of attending said college, Jeremiah) stemming from the very real possibility they’re estranged mother and son, it’s unsurprising to discover the world around them is a laundry list of eccentrically unique parents. Between her former live-in boyfriend leaving to have twins despite hating children (Michael Sheen‘s Mark), her feminist Bohemian mother who spent years trying to break free from parent/child emotional hierarchy (Lily Tomlin‘s Susannah), and the boy’s world traveling teacher who took him under his wing alongside his adopted Ugandan son (Paul Rudd‘s John), novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz and screenwriter Karen Croner appear to be throwing the fact these crazies never gave up in their lead’s face.
The only “normal” parents in the entire film are actually the one’s who adopted Jeremiah and raised his autodidact to become the kind-hearted, ever-questioning, humble, and thankful young man he is today. Yes, Portia and the rest of her tireless crew of judgmental co-workers subjectively weeding through thousands of Princeton applications for the one percent they’ll allow in do possess the maternal/paternal metaphor of stewarding these stand-ins for children into the next chapter of their lives, but the way the job is portrayed as cold, sometimes heartless, and completely passion-less only makes us believe the filmmakers are also saying it’s the wrong path. Paul Weitz‘s Admission—while a funny romantic comedy on the surface—therefore can’t help but also be an oddly damning commentary on mothers who give up their children for adoption.
The characters involved are all pretty much selfish, demanding, control freaks that need to reach an emotional epiphany to understand those they are trying to raise far from the familial chaos of their own childhoods are now just as sheltered and ignored as they. It’s not all about the environment kids are raised in; it’s about the level of compassion and understanding given to them during the process. Yes, John has provided his son Nelson (Travaris Spears) an amazing young life full of experiences, but forcing him to have them in lieu of stability and friends has made the child just as resentful of him as he was of his parents. There is no wrong way to be a mother or father—and this is a great message for the film to contain.
Admission throws a bunch of misguided souls that love judging each other but never themselves together into a hamfisted tale of redemption, regret, and love through sacrifice. With so many independent individuals, however, it’s a shame how broad and generalized everything ends up being. As soon as we think a character is honestly a trailblazer cutting his/her own path, the filmmaker finds a way to open them up and lay their true intentions bare. Each one is scared and fearful they’ll make a mistake and that fear in itself is what ends up ensuring they do. Through Jeremiah—the one person untainted by authority or shoved into a carefully orchestrated existence due to being raised by hard-working blue collar folk who instilled a sense of personal pride and responsibility—we discover it’s our own actions which define us.
Giving up her son for adoption showed Portia how unlike her mother she was and it scared her onto a strict life path of predictability. The same could be said for John’s desire to do the exact opposite by completely breaking free of social constraints. It’s a clichéd message we’ve seen hundreds of times before and a universal theme our fallible lives have dealt with for generations. We try so hard not to become our parents that we are destined to do so anyway. Controlling your nuclear family to not be like the one you grew up in is still controlling and that stifling atmosphere is what your adolescence rebelled against in the first place. This whole film is simply a series of events showing how caution and danger can lead towards identical existences despite having such divergent concepts.
This idea runs so rampant throughout that it’s tough to feel for any of the characters when their actions are manipulated into serving the overall plot towards reaching an understanding with their pasts. What they do contains humor with which to pass the time but it’s hard to really want anyone to succeed besides Jeremiah. Wolff plays the role with an endearing authenticity that demands our attention by sticking so far out from the pack. With everyone around him trying so hard to see him succeed for no other reason than to say they helped, however, they only end up unintentionally putting more obstacles in his way. This is why I could have cared less if Portia and John got together or if they found happiness at all. As long as Jeremiah got in, the rest was inconsequential.
Ultimately, that’s a bad thing for a romantic comedy trying to get us to care about its lead’s happiness. Fey and Rudd garner laughs throughout and do share a chemistry rooted in sarcasm and awkward misinterpretation, but rewarding them with love because they realize there are other people in this world who count on them is a tough pill to swallow. Their so-called selfless acts are rooted in selfishness, their use of an innocent boy to satisfy their own desire to be loved is underhanded, and the ways in which they sacrifice seem hollow and over-the-top considering both come from a world of affluence and stature making it hard to feel sorry for them. Jeremiah worked tirelessly to teach himself when no one else could and to watch these opportunists unwittingly sabotage his dreams is not my idea of entertainment.
 (l to r) Tina Fey stars as Portia Nathan and Paul Rudd stars as John Pressman in Paul Weitz’s ADMISSION, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features
 (l to r) Tina Fey stars as Portia Nathan, Nat Wolff stars as Jeremiah Balakian and Paul Rudd stars as John Pressman in Paul Weitz’s ADMISSION, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features
 (l to r) Tina Fey stars as Portia, Wallace Shawn stars as Clarence and Gloria Reuben stars as Corinne in Paul Weitz’s ADMISSION, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features