On “Admission” – THIS IS GONNA BE AN EDUCATION

March 24, 2013

Admission_TFey_PRudd_01

There’s a lot about mainstream education that annoys me, but there’s little doubt that being in an environment where the standards are stratospheric and you get to interact with the brightest minds of your generation is a way to pull your game up to the tippity top level.

It’s what an Ivy League education does. It’s what bagging a stay at Princeton does.

“There has been an escalating parental obsession with this process — whether for nursery schools or elite universities. Kids are being groomed and nurtured for a greatness that may well be unattainable, and they are trying so hard — and pushed so hard — to be all that they can be to secure entrance into a top Ivy League university.” ~ Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, producer

Little wonder that the Navy SEALS of the Ivies has a rigorous screening and scouting process to coax the brightest and most zealous into their fold. And I do mean passion is the key word.

Tina Fey’s Portia Nathan makes it as much a mantra in this movie. “We’re looking for the most passionate people,” she declares over and over from small and grungy non-canon schools that teach politics via sculpture to the swankest of exclusive, uniformed institutes.

Portia’s an admissions officer at Princeton. It’s a job that’s made her static, unassuming, and relentlessly square. Boring would be too flattering a description. It implies she’s mildly interesting. She’s very good at her job though.

It’s worthy to note that this movie is an adaptation of a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Same title, same focus on a niche world that’s ultra competitive. So at lest Tina Fey’s portrait of the harassed, put-upon Portia must be spot on with the whole experience of such an intense process.

Two things make this movie worthwhile to watch.

First is Fey and Paul Rudd’s low key comedic chemistry as unlikely lovers Portia and John Pressman. The latter’s portrayal of an alternative learning school’s administrator (where they have biology by milking cows, robotics, and carpentry all under the same roof) with charm and casual cool and how it clashes with Portia’s rehearsed intensity is a deftly masterful articulation of veteran comedians at work. So the laughs here don’t come like slapstick and you actually feel clever for getting the joke. Have a slow clap for yourself. Go on.

Secondly – and this is what I really loved about “Admission” – what it does well is visually illustrate the absurd process, the blood sport that is getting your child into THE college of choice. You’ll need to show on paper and prove that you’re passionate. You’ll need to be captain of the debate club, the president of the fencer’s league, EIC of the school paper. Shit like that.

Sure there’s Yale, and Harvard (and any of the grads from these places are easily earth movers and shatterers) but it seems that, if Princeton really holds true to the credo of gathering he passionate into their arms and nurturing them, then it’s the place to be for the creatives and the dreamers. And what young, eager, college entrant isn’t?

“When I told friends, especially those with children, about the film, there would be an instantaneous reaction and I would get peppered with questions. There’s a sense of panic in every parent who is about to go through that process. I found the story compelling.” ~ Tina Fey (Portia Nathan)

I loved the way Portia saw each student in front of her whenever she opened a file. I adored the way their petitioning faces fell into sheer agony during the deliberation proper, and their folder was stamped with DENY even as an imaginary trapdoor opened under their completely imaginary judgement time and they fell off the face of the Princeton earth – a delayed pain that they’ll only feel when the dreaded THIN ENVELOPE reaches them in a week (the fat envelope of acceptance looks like it translates to all universities worldwide, ey?).

Even the plot twist that has Portia discovering that a child of hers (that she put up for adoption a long time ago) might be alive and is one of the Princeton hopefuls is just a way to prolong the bizarre way that such a process transforms people into savage lobbyists.

So what happens when Portia finds herself at the other end of the stick? An education, a learning marinated in sympathy.

Only Ms Bossypants’ grade-A RomCom skillz can bring this one to life – I tried to imagine fellow SNL alum Amy Poehler in this one and shook my head. A dash of Liz Lemon is the answer.

Yeah I laughed my head off. But I learned stuff about Princeton, too. How many romcoms can say that?

Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

ADMISSION is now screening exclusively in Ayala Mall cinemas.

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