I kept expecting something riotous to happen in Paul Weitz's new movie "Admission."
You know, somebody to do something crazy. Or somebody to say something clever and quippy.
Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Lily Tomlin, Travaris Meeks-Spears
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Other: A Focus Features release. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations. 117 minutes
Sometimes, that almost happens. Then, humor disappointment.
"Admission" is agreeable entertainment, but lacks a brisk comic clip. Weitz's snapless direction highlights tepid emotional moments over glib repartee and farcical shenanigans, which this forced and flaccid film cries out for. Especially with normally hilarious actors Tina Fey and Paul Rudd as the stars.
Former "SNL" and "30 Rock" star Fey plays Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer. Single and career-driven (and as we discover, ethics-challenged), Portia spends her life wading through letters of recommendation and resumes from zillions of students.
When the dean (Wallace Shawn) announces his retirement, he sets in motion a competition between Portia and her office rival Corinne (Gloria Reuben) to take over his job. Who can bring in more of the most-qualified students?
Meanwhile, Portia's romantic life has become 50 shades of beige. Her live-in English professor boyfriend ("Twilight" star Michael Sheen, on loan from the Volturi University) is a self-centered simpy sot, and we know instantly that their relationship will not last until Act III.
Or until she falls for John Pressman.
Dartmouth grad John (Rudd), founder of an experimental institution called the New School, has an adopted son named Nelson (Travaris Meeks-Spears). John loves Nelson, yet, he pays more attention to a supersmart teen student named Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) who really wants to attend Princeton, but hasn't got the grades. So, John goes to bat for him and that's how he meets Portia.
Then comes a soap operatic twist. John figures out that Portia is really Jeremiah's birth mother. She doesn't have much of a maternal streak, given that she never knew her dad and her mom is a 1960s free spirit named Susannah (played with droll, wry wit by Lily Tomlin).
But Portia can offer her son something most moms can't: Princeton.
"Admission" is admirably more dense, even smarter than the standard Hollywood comedy. It's based on a book by Jean Hanff Korelitz (which I have not read) and perhaps Weitz's faithfulness to it contributed to his apprehension about going the comic full monty.
Not that "Admission" is devoid of fun invention, as in the dean's office where hopeful students magically appear before the admissions staff, and upon rejection, are unceremoniously dropped through a metaphorical trap door.
Had Weitz, the director of "About a Boy," bumped up the comic quotient like this more often, the demerits of "Admission" might have been minimized. Humor disappointment averted.