Admission: Paul Weitz Serio-Comedy, Starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd

Assigned to the wrong director, Paul Weitz, Admission, the new serio-comedy starring the gifted comedienne Tina Fey and the appealing Paul Rudd, is a misfire on several fronts.

For one thing, Paul Weitz cannot find the right tone foe an tale, set in the academic world, which might have worked better as a drama than a comedy; as helmed by Weitz, “Ädmission” is not funny or witty enough.

For another, there is no good chemistry, no erotic charge, between Fey and Rudd, who seem better suited to play good friends than romantic lovers.

Overall, this is yet another disappointing big-screen effort for the very gifted Tina Fey, who has done terrific work on TV (“30 Rock” and other shows).

Admission raises another issue of admission, to play on its title: When do you acknowledge that a particular filmmaker is simply not a good director, if he fails in one project after another. Hoping from genre to genre, Paul Weitz (brother of Chris) has not made a decent picture in a decade. His bio emphasizes two films, “Äbout a Boy,” and “Ïn Good Company,” pictures that were made in 2001 and 2004, respectively.

Fey plays admissions officer Portia Nathan, a cultural gatekeeper evaluating thousands of applicants and thus holding power as to their scholastic (and professional) futures.

We have seen comedies set in colleges and universities, but not with this particular angle, which on paper, sounds most promising.

Every spring, high school seniors anxiously await letters of admission that will affirm and encourage or deny and discourage their potential. At Princeton University, Portia is a bureaucrat who has lived by the book, adhering to a strict set of rules at work as well as at the home, which she shares with Princeton professor Mark (Michael Sheen).

The credible turning point occurs, when Clarence (Wallace Shawn), the Dean of Admissions, announces his impending retirement. The two likeliest candidates to succeed him are women (for a change): Portia and her office rival Corinne (Gloria Reuben, who was so good in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”).
Portia behaves as if it were business as usual, as she hits the road on her annual, ritualistic recruiting trip.

We are grateful that she leaves the stiff setting, hoping for some joyous development in the narrative. On the road, Portia reconnects with her eccentric mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin).

Moving on, while visiting New Quest, an alternative high school, she reconnects with her former college classmate, John Pressman (Paul Rudd), now an idealistic teacher.

John has good reasons to believe that Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a gifted yet very unconventional New Quest student, about to apply to Princeton, might be the son that Portia secretly gave up for adoption years ago.

For her part, Portia must re-evaluate her personal and professional life. The main dilemma is whether or not to bend the admissions rules for the sake of Jeremiah. Real risks are involved in that decisions, as well as promises for a surprising and exhilarating life and romance.

Both Tina Fey and Paul Rudd walk through their parts, delivering their lines without any special distinction, or fun. I assume they have been misdirected by Weitz, or realize during the shoot that the material is really not worthy of their talent or energy.

The only good performance is given by Lily Tomlin, who plays Fey’s eccentric mother in an iconic role that she must have felt close too due to its feminist overtones and her own background.

In interviews, Weitz has claimed that he was intrigued by the opportunity to direct a movie whose protagonist is a female, as most of his pictures have revolved around men and boys. But judging by the mediocre results, it’s still unclear what in the material had provoked him.

Weitz’s work has always suffered from lack of sharp technical skills and lack of control over the visual look and tonal mood of his films, which tend to ramble and drag.

I have not read the screenplay, but watching the film, I have the impression that, due to Weitz’ uncertain direction, the lead characters are less likable and less appealing than they might have been on paper.

Paul Weitz may be one of the most “American” filmmakers, judging by the titles (not quality) of his films, which include “American Pie,” “American Dreamz,” and “American Wedding.” Prior to this picture, Weitz had directed “Little Fockers” and “Being Flynn,” both bad pictures; his last good film was made in 2004, “Ïn Good Company.”

Based on “Ädmission,” I have to admit that Weitz has not made much progress as a filmmaker.