Charming. A refreshing topic and setting for a romance between opposites. Tina Fey plays by-the-book Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan. Paul Rudd oversees an alternative high school in a free-wheeling, loosey goosey style which only Paul Rudd as John Pressman can portray. Rudd has never been better. His frequent tendency to shtick is absent and a genuine soft side gives his performance a refreshing air of sincerity. He has stopped trying to be funny and just allows the dialogue to flow and the situation to rule. Fey also is in top shape. Her tendency to force a situation also is put on the back burner. She drives most of the scenes with her dynamic energy, but she allows Rudd to work off of her and they form a terrific duo of laid back comedy. Director Paul Weitz shows his skill in getting these wonderful performances out of Fey and Rudd both who have a tendency to turn comedy into ham,
Karen Croner's screenplay has LOL moments such as when a debonair playboy type meets Portia's mother, Lily Tomlin. 'You look as lovely as you did thirty years ago,' he says. ''I've had a mastectomy,' she replies with a dead pan Tomlin delivery. Tomlin rarely has been better. Again, Weitz put the brakes on Tomlin's tendency to overact and allows the raw sincerity of the moments shine through.
The plot is not complicated and not packed with pizzazz but this film is about characters and their relationships. I found this refreshing with all the slambamthankumam action flicks covered in ratatat-tin jamming our cinemas. John Pressman wants to get his progressive student who has D's but is a self-educated scholar into Princeton and cajoles Portia into bending rules in his favor. A secondary plot line is that Portia has given up a baby for adoption and has been haunted as to his whereabouts. John convinces Portia that his progressive student is her son. Wallace Shawn plays the dean of Princeton's admissions again in an understated non clichéd manner, While director Weitz was watching for over-acting, he missed John's mother, who pushes the envelope in playing a socialite in a stereotypical obnoxious manner. Well, one bad performance can be lived through thanks to Fey,Rudd and Tomlin, who make a mediocre script work and time fly and your ticket to admission worth the price of admission.