In "Admission," Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, a straight-laced Princeton admissions officer. Portia's slightly hum-drum life is turned on its head when one of her college classmates asks her to visit the alternative school he runs in New Hampshire with the intention that she meet a special student. She refuses at first, but after her boss reveals he is retiring and needs someone to fill his chair, Portia sets off for the free-spirited school, hoping it will make her stand out from the pack.
Once she's in New Hampshire, Portia meets up with her old classmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd), is introduced to the aforementioned special student (who may be the son she gave up for adoption), and reunites with her eccentric mother (Lily Tomlin). Drama, comedy, and life-altering events ensue.
So, is the first pairing of comedy darlings Fey and Rudd one to watch, or should the movie be denied admission into our hearts?
1. If you're expecting a fun-loving, somewhat-goofy comedy, think again
Yes, "Admission" is a comedy -- which makes sense considering the resumes of Fey and Rudd -- but "dramedy" may be a better word to describe it. The movie does have its high comedy moments, like when Portia and John share an awkward I-meant-to-kiss-your-cheek-but-missed-and-got-your-lips smooch, but the underlying tone of the movie is fairly melancholy. Portia deals with some heart-wrenching issues, such as the guilt she feels over giving up her child and unhappiness with her hum-drum life. So if you expect belly laughs, you may just have to settle for chuckles instead -- and maybe even a tear or two.
2. Fey proves she's more than a comedian
Most of the scenes that tug at your heartstrings and provoke a few tears revolve around Fey's character, Portia, and the series of life-changing events she tackles. The result is a role that calls for Fey to pull off her most serious performance to date. When Portia comes to terms with the reality of her long-term boyfriend (Michael Sheen) leaving her and faces the possibility that meeting her son, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), may change both of their lives forever, Fey reveals an earnestness that makes a strong case for her being much more than a comedic performer.
3. You can always count on Lily Tomlin for a laugh
Tomlin plays Portia's mother, Susannah, a tough, foul-mouthed feminist, who would rather have Portia call her by her first name to avoid all the mushy mother-daughter obligations the word "mom" implies. As you may have guessed from the trailer and commercials, she does more than her fair share of scene stealing.
4. Portia is no Liz Lemon
While Portia has her quirks, don't expect to see the out-of-sorts and chaotic charm that we have come to know and love about Fey's "30 Rock" alter-ego. Portia is well-organized, and as Rudd's character puts it in the film, slightly compulsive. She trims the bonsai tree on her desk to death (literally, it dies from over-trimming), and she is dead-set on having a picture-perfect life, the idea of which is torn to shreds when her Princeton professor boyfriend hits the road.
5. Fey's character embraces nepotism at its finest
It is evident early on that Portia has a very clear opinion about the actions parents take to get their kids into college: she thinks they're insane. But after Portia finds out that her could-be son Jeremiah is a gifted autodidact who gets perfect scores on standardized tests (but gets D's and F's in school), she goes to some arguably extreme lengths to ensure he gets into Princeton. By the end of the movie, it's safe to say that her views on parents -- and what they do for their children -- change dramatically. And it's a satisfying arc to watch.
6. The movie has its fair share of mean girls
Fey famously wrote the screenplay and had a supporting role in the 2004 comedy "Mean Girls," and some of them followed her into this movie. At the beginning of "Admission," we find out that Portia is up against another admissions officer for the position of Head of Admissions. Her rival, Corinne (Gloria Reuben), is passive-aggressive and self-involved, and takes every opportunity to make Portia look bad. As if dealing with a mean girl at work weren't enough, Portia deals with one in her personal life, as well. Her boyfriend, Mark, reveals that he is leaving her for an uppity Virginia Woolf scholar, who happens to be carrying his twins. While Mark doesn't exactly win boyfriend of the year, his mistress, Helen, shows no remorse or sympathy, and makes Mark break up with Portia in the middle of a dinner party. We're guessing these women have Regina George on speed dial.
7. There's a large hole in the story
It's no secret that John tells Portia that Jeremiah may be her son. What the movie's marketing campaign didn't reveal is how John knows this key bit of info, and, frankly, the movie is a little fuzzy on it as well.
8. Paul Rudd (and his character) are undeniably charming
John is the principal and founder of a very progressive (read: hippie-esque) alternative school in New Hampshire. He teaches his students about sustainable farming, composting, and challenging conventional ideals of success (like having a degree from Princeton). John has a degree from Dartmouth, but chose to travel the world, building schools and irrigation systems in third-world countries. He's a do-gooder and almost the polar opposite of Portia -- so, naturally, they fall for each other. But, honestly, who wouldn't fall in love with Paul Rudd if given the chance?
9. Nat Wolff is delightfully quirky
Portia's could-be biological son, Jeremiah, is played by Nat Wolff, a musician and former Nickelodeon star ("The Naked Brothers Band"). He plays unique and quirky perfectly, and he'll manage to charm you -- and we're guessing a multitude of teenage girls.
10. The chaos surrounding the college application process is uncannily accurate
The movie is based on the novel "Admission," which was written by former Princeton admissions employee Jean Hanff Korelitz. So, yes, to an extent, the crazy parents and the high-strung students you see in this movie are a reality. Korelitz was an outside reader for the university's Office of Admissions for a couple of years, and she's married to a Princeton professor.
"Admission" hits theaters nationwide March 22.