The two themes of Paul Weitz’s film Admission weave together an unusual tapestry. The first thread is the competitive world of college admissions where the top schools are supposedly measured by how many candidates they deny. The second is the private struggle for family that many experience when they have had a difficult parent or a disastrous first love relationship. Although seemingly disparate, these two threads do in fact weave together an unexpected and entertaining tale about finding love and life in ways we did not expect.
Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and adapted for the screen by Karen Croner (One True Thing), the story focuses on Princeton Admissions Counselor Portia Nathan (Tina Fey). Driven such that her job has been her life for sixteen years, Portia is in competition for the director position with Corinne (Gloria Reuben). Slightly neurotic and overtly snobbish, Portia and the other admissions counselors are ashamed when their director Clarence (Wallace Shawn) tells them that Princeton has fallen to number 2 in the U.S. News magazine’s college rankings. The solution, they are told, is to get even more candidates to apply and then deny.
This setup is the context for Portia’s willingness to receive a call from a new prep school when a teacher calls her about a gifted student. When she visits this school, she meets John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a teacher whose own free spirit and questioning attitude has been imitated by his students. Their immediate attraction is a subplot to John’s desire for Portia to get Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) into Princeton. Jeremiah is a self-described autodidact, explaining that when he was eight years old, he realized his teachers could not educate him, so he began to educate himself. A voracious reader, he did poorly in school. But when he came into John’s class, he immediately saw Jeremiah’s genius and had him take the tests for advanced placement. He not only aced tests for classes he had never taken, but his SAT scores were almost perfect as well. This made him a possible candidate for the prestigious university.
We won’t spoil where the story goes from there except to say that all is not as it appears and the longings of Portia, John and Jeremiah all weave together in both expected and unexpected ways. However, the film clearly portrays how the necessity of having both a healthy family and a good education are increasingly stressful on all of us. The family is being challenged in a variety of ways while education is changing not only for the residential universities but also for all institutions of higher learning. How both home and school will eventually navigate these societal changes is unknown, but the simple message that love and relationships are of first importance is something this film shows clearly. That is a truth we can all appreciate.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. In the experience of giving a child up for adoption, there is a void in both lives that sometimes draws both mother and child back together. If you were adopted, would you or did you seek to know your birth mother? Why would this be important to you?
2. Jeremiah’s genius meant that our educational system was unable or unsuited to teach him. What do you think we should provide or allow for those who are gifted intellectually?
3. The mother of Portia, Susannah (Lily Tomlin), deceitfully proclaimed her lack of need for a man in her life to her daughter. Why do you think she did this? What would you do if you were in her place?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.