3 stars
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin
Rated PG-13

"Admission" doesn't have the freshest story, the most compelling direction or the sharpest script. But it does have Tina Fey and Paul Rudd as a romantic pair, and sometimes a casting coup like that is all you need.

Paul Weitz's film stars Fey as uptight Princeton admissions counselor Portia Nathan, who is deluded about her childless longstanding relationship with blowhard academic Mark (Michael Sheen, essentially reprising his "Midnight in Paris" part), and singularly focused on scoring the soon-to-be vacant dean of admissions post.

Her priorities start to shift when John Pressman (Paul Rudd), the principal of a small New Hampshire school, invites her to his campus. From there, the plot centers on a phony red herring gambit involving Portia and one of John's seniors (Nat Wolff), who might be her son.

The film gently satirizes the pretensions of academia. In one of the few genuinely interesting directorial flourishes, the students whose applications Portia and her colleagues are considering materialize in the background, putting a human face on an impersonal process. It's a poignant critique of the notion that a college application is a useful judge of an individual's character and potential.

But, really, "Admission" plays it safe. It's a proudly mainstream dramedy geared toward thrusting Portia and John together, and giving the stodgy protagonist a chance to loosen up and reconsider her life.

This isn't much of a stretch for Fey and Rudd. Portia is a sadder, slightly more grounded version of "30 Rock's" Liz Lemon. Rudd plays a characteristic nice guy, albeit one complicated by the presence of an adopted son from Africa named Nelson (Travaris Spears).

The characters are so likable, though, that you're invested in the portrait of Portia's personal evolution and its ripple effect on John. These guys could make taxes seem charming, even touching. Pair them up romantically, put them in a bunch of scenes together and surround them with a competent three-act screenplay and the rest takes care of itself.

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