05Mar

Thinking About Admission

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 9.25.22 AMA few weeks ago I had the privilege of screening ADMISSION , a Paul Weitz film starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd.  I also had the chance to meet and attend a press conference with all three the next day.  Three publics figures whose work I adore, it was quite the treat.

Tina Fey was just as cute, tiny and down-to-earth as I expected (seriously, could you just gag?).  I particularly liked her response when asked if getting into NYC schools is harder than getting into Princeton. About the interview process, she said:

What if you have to take them that day and they have to poop? It’s over.

Gotta love that.

I even made Paul Rudd blush during a conversation about his theater acting.  Note: actors love being praised for their theater work. Whenever you want to make them smile, talk about the stage work. Paul Weitz also appreciated the question, which i put forth to him as I know he has done considerable stage work.

When I sat down to see the film the day before the press conference, I quickly realized that I didn’t know a soul in the room. As I sat down to read my press information, a woman slid into the seat next to me.  We started to talk and she explained that a book she just wrote on college admissions was potentially going to be on display in the film and would I please keep an eye out for it.  Then we realized we knew each other from the world of blogging.  I enjoyed locating and squealing at the sight of her book in the film, along with her.  Her name is Nancy Woodward Berk and you should also keep an eye out for the book called College Bound and Gagged.  It was front and center in one scene as one character was removing books from an enormous box.

I told Nancy that I feel years away from the college admissions process. She laughed and said it will be here before I know it.  I can’t even begin to think about it….(but I do promise to read the book).

The film revolves around Tina Fey, who plays an admission counselor at Princeton University. She plays Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer.  She’s a feminist at heart that has lived by the book and has made a choice not to be a mother. When she finds out that a child she gave birth to and put up for adoption 18 years ago is applying to Princeton, she finds herself bending the admission rules and puts her future at risk.  It’s an honest portrayal of a woman fighting her maternal impulse, struggling to maintain the independence she has worked so hard to maintain.  The thought of having a love in her life never particularly interested her either.  I like what Fey said about why she was attracted to the script:

It was such a rich story. There are so many roles where women are chasing motherhood and desperate to experience it. I thought it was clear that this woman was very clear that did not want to be a mother and she did not want to be married.  She has to face the reality that this person does actually exist and how will this work within her life. It was a nice thing I hadn’t seen before.

Having seen several of Weitz’s films, such as About a Boy and In Good Company, I was curious why he finally made a film with a female lead.  This is what he had to say:

Well, I hadn’t had a film with a clear female lead.  It’s fun to be in this terrain of comedy-drama because that’s so much of what real life is about.  For me, parenting roles are changing rapidly.  If I try to parent my kids like I was parented, my daughter would laugh in my face and my son would scream at me.  Tina’s character has made a decision in life that she won’t be a parent but has a boomerang effect that every year this kid she gave up for adoption is one year closer to the college essays that’s she reading and will be a part of the group that is touring the campus.  I liked someone making a decision with logic and hard mind but having to face the crack in the decision.  Paul’s character is at a point in his life where he’s making decisions for his kid and his kid is finally saying I want to make my own decision about my life and it’s a hard transition.  They’re both at a cracking point in their lives and falling for each other.

Rudd and Fey’s characters do fall for each other. But there are hurdles.  When Rudd convinces her that a child exists that she gave up for adoption in college, her career-driven self goes out the window. It’s obvious what attracted Fey to the role while finishing up her hit show, 30 Rock. She said,

It was such a rich story. There are so many roles where women are chasing motherhood and desperate to experience it.  I thought it was clear that this woman was very clear that did not want to be a mother and she did not want to be married.  She has to face the reality that this person does actually exist and how will this work within her life. It was a nice thing I hadn’t seen before.

But Rudd’s character isn’t emotionally available after years of teaching around the globe, while raising an adopted son on his own, and their love doesn’t come instantly.  About his character, he said,

For John, if you look at what he does, what he’s running away from, all of these attributes seem incredibly appealing and very cool but really the character is very selfish and insecure.  His life that he set up for himself isn’t working the way it used to and I liked that aspect, too.

Tina’s character has been raised by an ardent feminist, played by the incredible Lily Tomlin.  Every time she came on the screen, I felt a huge smile lift from my lips.  I grew up with her work and she will always be a part of what makes the big screen so dynamic to me.  It’s clear that despite her efforts to turn out like her mother, Portia has inherited her mother’s strong will. On working with Tomlin, Fey smiled and said:

I was so star-struck to be meeting her yet alone trying to act opposite her. She was so warm, so into doing everything fully and doing it right. Every scene has a complicated, physical thing that’s she’s doing.  She’s incredible.  She was making sausage, for real.  She is so electric as a personality on screen.  If there’s any slight change or variation in the take, you can feel her taking it in and being excited by it. She has an improviser’s spirit where she’s constantly really genuinely listening to her scene partner, reacting to what they are doing.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion about parenting.  Fey and Rudd both have kids, as does Weitz, and they all had a lot to say about them and how much life has changed.  When asked if he and his character have much in common as parents, Rudd said:

There were so many unknowns when you have a kid. Someone told me, “The child will adapt to your life.  You don’t need to adapt to the child’s life.” So for the first few months when we wanted to go out to dinner, we took our kid.  This character has a bit of that. In my life, I realized I had to adapt my life because I wanted the best for my child. That’s what this character is realizing, too.  It wasn’t so much that I learned the same lessons my character learned, but they were enhanced.

Admission is a film with a feminist slant which appealed to me, and that was the question I put forth to Tina Fey, asking if it’s a factor in the projects that she chooses:

Feminism is certainly something that appeals to me and I certainly try to avoid any roles that would offend me. 

The moral of the movie? Weitz left us with this:

The movie’s about not getting what you expect in life but understanding if you have the capability to change and grow, that’s the greatest tool. 

That was what the film was for me.  Written by novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz and produced by Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, it has a woman’s finger prints all over it. Weitz took what existed and gave it to us straight.  It’s a romantic comedy with compassion, and I’ll take that any day.

Admission starts playing in theaters nationwide on March 22nd, 2013.

Disclosure: I was not compensated to write this review.  In exchange, I went to an early preview and interviewed the cast.  Another one of my stories appeared on Women & Hollywood that evolved from the interview here: http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/tina-fey-on-her-new-film-admission-feminism-motherhood-and-lily-tomlin 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I had a great time last night, thanks for the tickets!