A quirky drama-comedy about relationships

A Princeton admissions officer (Fey) takes a professional risk after she meets a student who may be her son.

Ellen Dochat
Staff Writer

A Princeton admissions officer (Fey) takes a professional risk after she meets a student who may be her son.
A Princeton admissions officer (Fey) takes a professional risk after she meets a student who may be her son.

This was a good though interesting and unpredictable film. I like those sorts of films.
The concept is basic. Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is a predictable bore of an adult. She likes her life orderly and neat, constantly snipping her plant on her desk. She is an admission’s officer for Princeton and is dedicated to her job. She is loyal, as her long-term boyfriend, annoying English professor, Mark (Michael Sheen) says. She wants to succeed and a promotion is in her sight and then everything changes. Determined to get ahead of her competitor in the admission’s office, Corinne (Gloria Reuben), she visits a new high school in New Hampshire run by the worldly and traveled John Pressman (Paul Rudd). He introduces her to his prized student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). Jeremiah is a good kid, brilliantly smart (he, like Brick from The Middle can remember absolutely everything he reads) but his record is spotty. His grades, until senior year, are abysmal and he has few extra-curriculars. However, despite never taking an AP class in his life, he nevertheless, took eight tests and passed with all fives (the highest score possible). I have taken four AP tests, after taking the class and only managed two threes and two twos, so yeah, this kid is a genius.
Then everything changes. Upon returning home from her trip, Mark announces that he cheated on her (after ten years of sinful living together) and got his mistress pregnant, with twins. And John Pressman tells her two things, one that Jeremiah is truly interested in going to Princeton and two, that he is the baby she gave up for adoption years ago. (They both went to the same college, so John heard stuff.) This sends Portia into a tailspin. Her life has changed forever. She, then, precedes to break every rule ever established to get Jeremiah into Princeton, though, she didn’t change his resume. Instead, she did something worse. She switched his accepted sticker with the one of another. (No harm [kidding], that kid decided upon Yale anyway.) This forces her to resign from her job, something that she clearly was expecting. And, then, the biggest bombshell. She confronts Jeremiah and tells him that she’s his mother and he says no, she’s not. He met her and his half-sisters months ago. His biological mother is a hairdresser. Portia is devastated. The birth certificate was smudged, so the hour of birth was wrong. Portia, then, decides to seek out her adopted child, but he is not ready to meet his mother. Waitlisted, not bad, assures John.
Now, there are other plots. Paul Rudd and Tina Fey do end up together, though that is not a cut-and-dry romance either. John is well-traveled, to his mother’s dismay. He even adopted a child from Zambia, Nelson (Travaris Spears), who hates traveling. He thinks that Portia is wonderful, because she has had the same job for the past sixteen years. She is the typical, predictable, boring adult. Nelson is sick of traveling and doesn’t want to go to Ecuador, the next stop on John’s journey to better the world.
And then, the best character of the film, Susannah Nathan (Lily Tomlin), Portia’s crazy-feminist mother. She raves about how she didn’t want a relationship, but she needed this stranger on the train for his sperm. She is a raging feminist who doesn’t even bother to buy her dogs (greyhounds) some food because she is a slave to no one. The dogs can eat whatever they find or kill outside. She also recently had a mastectomy and has fake boobs, bigger than the ones she used to have. She tells her daughter that she wanted to know what having bigger ones would be like. “They get in the way,” one the greatest lines of the film. Yet, she, like her daughter, ends up in a relationship by the end of the film. He is one of the philosophy professors at Princeton who is a huge fan of hers. However, Susannah is not perfect. She wants to distance herself from this whole mother thing and insists that her daughter call her by her first name. Toward the end, Portia confronts her and says how furious she is at her mother for never getting the name of the sperm donor on the train. Susannah tells her that it wasn’t a plan, but an accident and Portia finally tells her mother that she had a baby in college whom she gave up for adoption. How she could have kept that a secret for eighteen years is beyond me. The film ends with the great line, applicable to many things: What’s the secret to getting in, there is no secret. And it’s true. You just have to be yourself.
Tina Fey is excellent in this performance proving that she is more than just a comic, able to cry on cue. She is also more believable in this role than in the delightfully funny Baby Mama. Paul Rudd, as always, is great as the guy trying to raise his kid differently than how he was raised, never mind what the child wants. Wallace Shawn, as Portia’s boss, does fine work. Lily Tomlin successfully steals every scene which she is in. Nat Wolff delivered a break-out performance. Only Michael Sheen seems out of place. The dialogue is fine and the story managed to turn something simple into something worth watching and remembering unlike The Guilt Trip. This one can be watched over and over again. Grade: A-