“Admission” Stars Apply Themselves

Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, and company sit down to speak about their upcoming film.

Centering around a Princeton University admissions officer, “Admission,” an upcoming film starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, will strike anyone who has ever applied to a highly selective university as all too familiar. In the film, directed by Paul Weitz, Fey plays Portia Nathan, an admissions officer who encounters Jeremiah, an eccentric yet intellectually gifted prospective applicant from an alternative high school. Jeremiah has a slim chance of getting into Princeton, but Portia soon learns that he might be the son she gave up for adoption years ago.

Inquisitive parents and applicants with long lists of extraordinary achievements populate the film, giving  viewers a sense of the obsessive effort that is poured into the tens of thousands of application packets that arrive in offices like Portia’s every year. Anyone who has successfully gone through the college application process will likely laugh at the pitch-perfect depiction of parental anxiousness and at the portrayal of overachievers vying for coveted acceptances. But students still wrapped up in the process—especially those counting down the days until April 1—might be further discouraged by the visual representation of the impossible odds of landing a spot in a “dream school” and disheartened by the apparent well-rounded flawlessness of an ideal applicant.

“Admission” captures the draining and sometimes panic-inducing process of  Ivy League admissions, but the film is about much more than that. During a press conference in New York City on Feb. 8, director Paul Weitz said that although the film is set in one of the nation’s top universities, it is not meant to serve as a laudatory celebration of the Ivy League.  “I personally don’t think it matters where you go to college. It’s about who you come across when you’re there. You can come out of a great school having been undereducated in the most important things in life,” he said. The film, similarly, is about how the trajectory of someone’s life, regardless of how carefully planned out, can be completely altered by people they encounter and with whom they connect.

Audience members may see some of themselves in Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), and Wolff’s own experience in filming for “Admission” was a classic case of art imitating life: he is a second-semester high school senior who, like Jeremiah, is preparing to decide where to spend the next four years of his life. Wolff met with his college adviser just three days after reading the script, and at the press conference, he described his anxiety over his own college applications.

The films marks a more dramatic role for Fey, who prior to this film starred in NBC’s “30 Rock” and the 2010 comedy “Date Night” with Steve Carell. For the film’s stars, though, more important than assigning the film to a specific genre was conveying the complex set of emotions in each scene. According to Fey, the approach was to draw out the elements of comedy and drama in each scene and depict those moments as honestly as possible. “It’s a human and heartfelt story, and you just try to play the tone that seems to be presenting itself on the page,” she said.

Paul Rudd plays John Pressman, an administrator at Jeremiah’s high school, and he also spoke at the conference about the unique opportunities offered by a film with elements of both comedy and drama. “Comedy is an effective means of conveying something dramatic. Life is funny, life is dramatic, and those tend to be my favorite kinds of stories,” he said. Weitz noted that to balance these elements successfully, comedy needs to emerge from the drama organically. A good movie will balance both naturally, he said. “The characters don’t know they’re being funny in any good comedy. The most fun thing is seeing a character emerge and to have actors walking that line [between comedy and drama].”

For all involved, the film seems to have been an enjoyable and cooperative effort. Filming on location at Princeton was permitted, which provided cast members with some of their favorite scenes. During the press conference, Fey said that one of her most memorable scenes was one in which her character stomps around campus in aggravation, but her tantrum is juxtaposed by the jaunty background music provided by a Princeton a capella group—which she encounters and pushes past in the middle of their song.

This combination of light-hearted humor and emotion is a defining component of the film—“Admission” deals with the often-harrowing journey of applying to college with both levity and realism. The cast hopes the setting and the subject matter of the film will strike a chord with both the hopeful high-schoolers and the college constituents in the audience.

—Staff writer Galila M. Gray can be reached at ggray14@college.harvard.edu.

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