Admission (2013): A Quick Review

***This review may contain spoilers***

Admission (2013) follows the story of Portia Nathan (Tina Fey), a Princeton admissions officer, who ultimately risks her job to help a young man, possibly the son she gave up for adoption years ago, get into the university she works for.Admission_movie_poster

What I liked about this movie:

The behind the scenes look at the admissions process of Princeton (and how many other schools like it?) and the questions it asks: What really gets you into a college/university? Your parents’ legacy? How many extra curricular activities you were involved in? Your character?

From the man stealing “Woolf woman,” to Portia’s workplace competition, Corinne, all the women in this film showed an amount of power over their lives which was really refreshing to see.

Paul Rudd is adorable as only he can be (think How Do You Know) and plays a very involved and loving single dad. I always appreciate it when writers write strong men in next to strong women. Somehow it always seems to be one or the other.

Best performance goes to Lilly Tomlin (hands down!) as the fiercely independent, albeit neglectful mother, whose maternal instinct eventually kicks in. The shot gun scene was fun.

What I didn’t like about this movie:

It didn’t really feel like a comedy, though it was marketed as such, and I went in with expectations that it didn’t meet. It was funny at times, Fey brings some humor to the role, but it was based more in drama and asking the poignant question of what it means to be a good parent: single, working, adoptive, biological, etc.admission2

Recommendation: Yay or Nay?

Yay. Even though it’s not a great movie, nor is it now a favorite of mine, it’s still a movie that I enjoyed watching. It’s also important to support films like this, so studios get the $message$ that if they put movies out there with strong female characters (especially protagonists), they can still make some money.


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3 thoughts on “Admission (2013): A Quick Review

  1. Rachel says:

    I would say anything that supports Tina Fey’s work is worth the $$! Thanks for this review 🙂 I wanted to ask you about the “poignant question of what it means to be a good parent” and the feminist undergirding of your review of this film–that it promotes a “strong female character.” Do you find it at all limiting that women in this film are tested in their strength of character as “mothers”? (You mention Tomlin’s “maternal instincts” kicking in at the end–does this suggest that the film only sees the potential in a female character if she is an engaged mother?) I’m thinking here of the long line of feminist argument that both praises motherhood and argues that it is also problematically patriarchal to confine women to these domestic roles. It sounds like Fey is willing to lose her career to be a good “mother” to a child who may be biologically, but not affectively, her own; that Tomlin is framed only as a redeemable character once she is placed “properly” back in the realm of “correct” maternal “instinct.” What do you make of this? Is the film necessarily supporting strong women’s roles that can step outside of or challenge the structures of sexism? Or does this film offer a limiting perspective of women–and some “caring” men–as ideally maternal? I haven’t seen the film, but I feel like your review plays with the ideas a bit….THOUGHTS?

    • Thanks for the comment! 🙂 This was a “quick review,” so I didn’t expound on a lot, but since you asked…

      ***This comment contains spoilers***

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that this film is limited to evaluating women in terms of their strength as “mothers,” but I would argue that its main focus is parenting (among other things like education and feminism) and centers around women, so are we discussing motherhood? Yes. All the women in this movie are strong, however, it is regardless of whether or not they are mothers (They all achieved things beyond motherhood, for example, in their working lives some are: published, up for promotion, experts in their field, etc.).

      Tomlin’s maternal instincts do “kick in” near the end because of her character’s arc. When we are introduced to Savannah we find her home in the middle of nowhere, not exactly welcoming her daughter’s visit (which you might guess is infrequent, let alone anyone else’s), and building a bicycle. Fey’s character then notes that her mother’s dogs are skinny and look underfed. Savannah tells her they are carnivores, natural hunters, and they can provide for themselves. We learn that Savannah is a feminist who was published in the 1960s (she also has a tattoo of Bella Abzug on her arm). This, we may suspect, are the sort of ideas and principles that Portia was raised on: nurturing equals coddling, independence is everything.

      Savannah’s moment of redemption for me didn’t come at the end when she’s a “good mother,” which, I don’t believe the film leaves you with anyway. For me, the moment came when she tries to better communicate with her daughter, reaches out to her, stops lying, and tells her the truth -even if it means sacrificing the sheen of her feminist ideals.

      Rudd’s character, John, might be considered maternal. He is a teacher and is responsible for nurturing young minds, as well as his adopted son’s. He is kind and caring, but are we saying that these are inherently feminine characteristics? I don’t know. Really, he’s the voice of the oppressed, hero to the downtrodden, and independent do-gooder that travels the world looking for ways to make it better. I don’t find that maternal, per se. Although, you may perhaps find it a maternal choice that by the end of the movie he decides to make a more permanent home for him and his son, rather than to keep traveling (and he is reluctant to do this).

      I don’t believe that this film is asking anyone to give up their ideals and make babies/adopt them, but it does most certainly offer a critique. What good is it to try and change the world through feminism or to give aide to underdeveloped countries, if you can’t take care of your own child, or rather if you can’t give them what they need? This film might argue that the change starts at home (maternal? perhaps). You don’t need to travel the world to find someone who needs you. You might have someone who’s completely dependent upon you right where you live, desperately needing your love, attention, etc.

      I think this could also tie into the topic of education, specifically the admission process, where we follow the young boy who may be Portia’s son, and hope that his abilities and talents will be nurtured at Princeton. However, because of Princeton’s traditions and standards, this uniquely intelligent boy might not get the chance. He’s clearly well above average in intelligence and is a voracious reader, teaching himself probably almost everything he knows. But, will his genius flourish at Princeton because he doesn’t fit into their cookie-cutter applicant mold? So, more to the point, what good is Princeton standards if it can’t recognize genius and help to develop it?

      To me, it didn’t limit women in terms of defining them as good (maternal) or bad (not maternal). It was an interesting look of what it means to stand for something and possibly let that something become a stumbling block in your life, even to the detriment of your children (admission to Princeton included). Tomlin says about the role of Savannah, “As a feminist from that era, I really plugged into the role. I had so many friends who were notable at the time, and then the times changed. I had an inkling of what it meant to follow a doctrine to the letter and then have it bite you on the other end.” Patriarchal domestic role or not, if you are a mother, your child should be important, and if not, why not? I think it asked a lot of questions about parenting, but I will let you be the judge if it gives any answers when you watch the film. Enjoy!

      • Rachel says:

        That clears quite a bit up, thanks! I was worried that the film–in a rush to center on the affective, feely-goody moments of maternal love–may have portrayed the questions concerning women and domesticity (motherhood particularly) in a reductive manner; however, your follow-up post maps out ways in which it’s more complex and handled with more sensitivity. I may watch it now and not get infuriated! (That said, I’m a huge advocate of feminism and maternity, obvs. I also just try to make sure the critique–of women as exchangeable and programmable figures that perpetuate heteronormative reproductive economies–is present when I think through feminism. So thanks, this was helpful!

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