Comedies today seem to always go for the broadest, raunchiest laughs. The audience is not trusted to get the comedic nuances in everyday life. That is not the case with the new film Admission written by Karen Croner, directed by Paul Weitz and based on the book by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
This is a movie reminiscent of Weitz’ best work, About a Boy, that gives us a look at people at a crossroads who are all forced to come out of their hiding places that have kept them distant from the world. I give some props to Paul Weitz for seeking out this film. Here’s what he wrote in the press notes: “I’ve written plays with female protagonists but am embarrassed that I haven’t directed a movie whose clear lead was a woman.”
I will freely admit that I am in the tank for Tina Fey. I just like her. Like everything she does. Like everything she says. But what I liked so much about her in this movie is that I feel we were getting to see a little bit of Tina 2.0. She’s pushing herself. In this movie she is able to combine some funny moments with really poignant moments in a struggling adult woman’s life. The fact that she is able to act opposite Paul Rudd — who really is the Tom Hanks of Generation X — only enhances the heart of this film. And that’s what this film has – heart.
The fact that we get Lily Tomlin playing a radical feminist on screen as Tina’s mom only made me love it more. We see her wearing a tattoo of Bella Abzug’s face (which Lily brought herself) and her character is an old school great feminist thinker who wrote a seminal book and still has many fans. But she dropped out of life, lives in the woods by herself, makes her own bicycle and keeps a really big secret from her daughter which has caused friction between them their whole lives.
I don’t remember the last time we saw a character onscreen like Tomlin’s Susannah, and it takes a person like Tina Fey and the rest of the team behind this film to allow this character to flourish. In other people’s hands she would have easily become a caricature, but Lily Tomlin pulls it off big time. And let’s not forget how psychically appropriate it is to have these two play mother and daughter.
Make no mistake, this is a movie that will have a tough climb at the box office. It’s not over the top funny and it’s not totally intense. It occupies a place that makes us think and makes us laugh a little but then we get a bit uncomfortable at what we are laughing at. It feels like a movie we used to see a generation ago when we had more films with women leads like the ones that starred Goldie Hawn or Bette Midler. Funny and uncomfortable, yet poignant. I miss those kinds of movies.