Tina Fey is done with 30 Rock and her Golden Globes gig (hopefully not for good), yet finding a niche on the big screen might be harder than she realizes—especially if she continues to lunge at awkward dramedies like Baby Mama and this one, another half-success spoiled by tonal uncertainty. Portia (Fey), a Princeton admissions officer, is Liz Lemon redux: high-functioning, overclenched, sexually neglected. Her longtime professor manfriend (a finely aloof Michael Sheen) pats her on the head like a sheepdog, and when he finally runs out on her, she accuses him with the kind of sharp, revealing line this movie could have used more of: “You had unprotected sex with that vile Virginia Woolf scholar?”
From there, the movie bats Portia around like a pinball, either as the bearer of a sarcasm only she possesses or as an emotional wreck several years late to the predictable grow-up-already lessons. Her obvious knight in shining armor, a progressive prep-school teacher (Paul Rudd), shows up too easily and is too patient, while scenes with a tough-talking mother (Lily Tomlin) reduce Portia to a mopey mess shorn of zingers. Admission’s comedy has walls built around it; director Paul Weitz (About a Boy), normally a softener of harsh edges, might have been stymied by Fey’s snappy persona. The plot hinges on a teen’s potential acceptance at the university, but you’ll stop wondering if the kid is actually our heroine’s offspring (from a secret adoption), given that Fey herself seems on the waiting list for performative maturity.
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