Broad comedy and sincere emotion coexist awkwardly in Admission, which finds 30 Rock’s Tina Fey playing another harried, socially awkward professional with conflicted feelings about parenthood. Portia Nathan (Fey) serves as one of Princeton University’s gatekeepers, helping decide which applicants will be among the chosen (very) few; her world is all about grade-point averages and test scores, with little room for flexibility or intuition. Visiting a new “alternative” high school, however, she’s presented by its headmaster, John (Paul Rudd), with Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a prodigy whose unimpressive GPA belies his apparent intelligence and capabilities. What’s more, John, who went to college with Portia and knows her history, tells her he’s convinced that Jeremiah is in fact her own son, given up for adoption nearly two decades earlier.
Adapted from a 2009 novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Admission wants to pose serious questions about the criteria that universities use to determine kids’ futures. But director Paul Weitz (Little Fockers, American Dreamz) seems terrified that this subject might put audiences to sleep unless it’s liberally laced with yuks, so we get such pointlessly embarrassing interludes as John drafting the uptight Portia to help birth a calf. (Remember, it’s an “alternative” school.) Lily Tomlin livens things up every so often as Portia’s mother, a feminist icon with a never-ending supply of withering advice, but Fey and Rudd have little chemistry, and Portia’s crusade to get Jeremiah into Princeton in no way reflects the real hurdles graduating seniors face. Ultimately, this is just another mediocre rom-com—exactly the sort of thing you’d expect Fey to avoid.