It's a shame "Admission" could not rise to meet Tina Fey's wondrous talent. That's not to say it's a bad movie or that Tina Fey is bad in it. It's just that the Tina Fey role could have been occupied by a more typical rom-com actress, say a Kate Hudson or a Katherine Heigl, and "Admission" would be essentially the same film.
The premise, based on a novel of the same name, is unconventional enough. Tina Fey is Portia, a Princeton admissions officer (not exactly your generic rom-com female career choice) and Paul Rudd is John, a high school teacher who thinks he has found the son Portia put up for adoption years ago, who, conveniently, wants to go to Princeton.
But the execution falls back on all the familiar rom-com tropes. Boy meets girl, boy loses girls, boy finds girl, boy loses girl, as my old Shakespeare professor used to say. Portia is ambitious and neurotic—but not in the zany, Liz Lemon-y way. She is at the cusp of a big promotion at work, but stuck in a dead end relationship—her boyfriend literally treats her like a dog—and has written off ever having more of a family.
John, whose hippie high school teaches classes like "third world development", has a son of his own—an African boy he adopted while do-gooding in Uganda—but can't stay in one place for long. Getting his student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) into Princeton and reconnected with Portia—who appears to be his birth mother due to details on Jeremiah's birth certificate that match the account John heard of Portia's son's birth from a mutual friend they both had in college—will be his last gesture of "giving back" in America before venturing to Ecuador for some more do-gooding. Not surprisingly, the two fall in love while juicing up Jeremiah's application.
Rudd, aside from his few ventures into the offbeat, is suited for a mainstream romance. Fey, not so much; she is at her best when she is defying narrative norms. But even in a mediocre role like this one, she has enough charisma and comedic delivery to hold up the film.
Watching Portia take to the idea that Jeremiah might be her son and embrace her maternal side is the highlight of the film. Playing Portia's eccentric, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar mother, Lily Tomlin is also quite amusing and their rocky relationship expands on the theme of what it means to be a mother. But all this takes a back seat to Portia and John's romance in the film's resolution.
See this film because you like romantic comedies, not because you like "30 Rock" or "Bossypants." If anything, "Admission" is the opposite of the college admissions process: pleasant but forgettable, and you should put it on your wait list.