Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Admission:" From Thoughtful Book to Funny Movie

After dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant last night, my husband and I drove over to our local multiplex for the opening of the romantic comedy "Admission." This PG-13 movie stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd; she as Portia Nathan, an uptight Princeton University admissions officer and he as John Pressman, the founder of an alternative high school in the boondocks of New England.

This is a delightful movie that had us laughing and smiling and kept us thoroughly engaged for its 117 minutes. Don't judge this movie by its trailer, which would make you think it is a slapstick comedy. While there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, this sweet movie also weaves in the questions of what constitutes maternity and what makes life meaningful.

Before I continue, I need to make my own admission: Jean Hanff Korelitz, whose 2009 novel of the same name was adapted to the big screen by Karen Croner, is a dear family friend and her eighth- grade son, who has a brief, nonspeaking part in this movie, has been our younger son's best friend since nursery school.

If you have read Korelitz's book, which I did as soon as it was published, understand that the movie's mood is dissimilar. The book has moments that are dark and brooding and we feel Portia's isolation and desperation as she tries to piece her carefully crafted life back together after a personal crisis.

From the novel:

“All ghost stories come to this, she understood. All ghost stories end in one of two ways: You are dead or I am dead. If people only understood this, Portia thought, they would never be frightened, they would only need to ask themselves, Who among us has died?

And then it occurred to her that she was the ghost in her story. She had spent years haunting her own life, without ever noticing.” 
You won't find that tone in this movie. Croner certainly retains the plot: a never-married professional woman coping with a high-stress job and the possibility one of students in this year's applicant pile is the son she secretly birthed and gave up for adoption during her college years. The movie also stays true to the characters' hearts; Portia is tightly wound, her mother, played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin is a radical feminist who packs heat and who conceived Portia with a passenger on a New Jersey Transit train. John Pressman is a sexy, sweet idealist who draws Portia out of the box she has climbed in.

Korelitz, in an interview in the online version of New York magazine, said when she first read the Croner's script, she began hyperventilating because so much had changed in terms of tone and plot structure. The twist she wrote toward her novel's end is revealed in the opening minutes of the movie.

"I also understood how daunting Karen’s task had been; she’d had to take a 400-page novel about a woman who lives very much in her own head and turn it into a 117-minute visual entertainment. An entertaining entertainment. And it was very funny. And this time I was able to see what was the same, instead of only what was different. Both the novel and the film are about a woman becoming a mother — uncomfortably, somewhat unwillingly, but also with love. Once I realized that, I was able to sort of fall for the script. It really was an adaptation."

 Tomlin in a scene from "Admission"

When I watched the movie, I already "knew" all the characters and felt they had merely found their ways out of a book and onto a screen. And yet, they had transformed into people who were much funnier. Fey and Rudd are a remarkable comedic pair.  Comedy icon Lily Tomlin, is well, Lily Tomlin. Her character's late-life romance with a Russian philosophy professor made me laugh harder than anyone in the theater. (And I do have a distinctive, loud laugh,) My husband, who has not read the novel, was equally entranced and amused by the movie. The supporting cast is terrific and includes Wallace Shawn as Portia's boss and Gloria Reuben as one of her colleagues.

In her novel, Korelitz offers lots and lots of detailed insights about the grueling Ivy League college admissions process. (Her insights are informed by six months of working in the Princeton Admissions Office to conduct research). In the movie, the college admissions process serves as a backdrop for the character's personal dramas.

So. Go see this movie. Buy the book. My girlfriend Paula told me she saw "Admission" for sale at the Costco in her hometown of Juneau. That tells me it's available just about everywhere.

I just had to add this photo of my girlfriend Jean (at right) standing on the set with Tina Fey and Karen Croner. Cool or what?

photo courtesy of


  1. First of all, I LOVE that you called me your "girlfriend"! Second of all, we went to see the movie tonight, and really, really liked it. There were plenty of laugh out loud moments and some very serious moments as well. There was plenty of chemistry between Fey and Rudd, and Lily Tomlin was terrific. I definitely want to buy the book, now! I love that I have a connection with someone who actually knows the author of the book! If I send you my copy, can you have Jean sign it? about I buy you a copy of the Fiddlehead Cookbook and have a couple of the authors sign it (because I know them), and you buy a copy of Admission and have Jean sign it and we do a swapperoo?

  2. Oh!! I love this swapperoo idea. Yes. Email me and we can work out the logisitcs!

  3. Thanks for this part: "You are dead or I am dead." I have my novel which I have started and that part you quote gives me an idea how to complete the first chapter.