Tina Fey is done with ‘30 Rock’, yet finding a niche on the big screen might be harder than she realises – especially if she continues to lunge at awkward comedy-dramas like ‘Baby Mama’ and this, another half-success spoiled by an odd tone. Portia (Fey), a university admissions officer, is basically a redux of her ‘30 Rock’ character: high-functioning, over-clenched, sexually neglected. Her professor man-friend (a finely aloof Michael Sheen) pats her on the head like a sheepdog, and when he finally leaves her, she accuses him with the kind of sharp 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 knight in shining armour, a progressive teacher (Paul Rudd), shows up too easily and is too patient, while scenes with a tough-talking mother (Lily Tomlin) reduce her to a mopey mess shorn of zingers.
The comedy in ‘Admission’ 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 uni, but you’ll stop wondering if the kid is really our heroine’s offspring (from a secret adoption), given that Fey herself seems on the waiting list for that next step up on the performers’ ladder.