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Admission Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray DVD Universal
- Studio: Anchor Bay
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DTS
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- Rating: PG-13
- Run Time: 1 Hr. 47 Mins.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
- Case Type:
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: ABC
- Release Date: 07/09/2013
- MSRP: $34.98
The Production Rating: 2/5After some 6 ½ years of reviewing titles for HTF, I have come to find some things happen at about the same time every year with a comforting pattern of regularity. For example, every January, I can expect to see the latest Roel Reine direct-to-video creation, an event that may cause me some horror and grief but usually results in amusement for HTF’s readers. By the same schedule, every June or July, I can expect to see the latest Paul Weitz movie. This is the third year running on this cycle. In the past, I’ve been sent Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant and Being Flynn. This year’s offering is Admission. (Obviously, these movies are aiming a bit higher than the DTV offerings.) And just like the regularity of their schedule, the Weitz movies unfortunately share a common problem. They contain promising elements and some good ideas, but they invariably fail to come together. After what feels like a good start, each movie becomes more confusing and scattered until its final moments, when the viewer is left wondering what the heck they’ve just spent the past two hours watching.
Admission is a light adaptation of the introspective 2009 novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz concerning Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton. The spoiler-free version of the story is to say that Portia faces some challenges in her personal life and finds herself championing the case of a 17 year old boy who she normally would have passed over. The movie adaptation streamlines the plot of the book a lot, to the point of oversimplification. The good news is that Tina Fey gives an engaging performance as Portia, and that Paul Rudd as John, her love interest, and Lily Tomlin as her mother each provide some good comic moments. Admission has several undeniably funny moments, usually involving an unexpected bit of slapstick that takes the viewer by surprise. Paul Weitz employs a great visual metaphor for the admissions process at one point that I admit got me to laugh out loud. But the movie doesn’t know where to go with this story, particularly as it has departed so far from the source book that it’s nearly unrecognizable. I’ll go more in depth about this in the next paragraphs for people who have seen the movie and want to go there. For everyone else, I can only say that I can’t recommend this movie other than for fans of Tina Fey who’d like to see her do something a little different, or fans of Lily Tomlin who’d like to see her steal a scene or two.
MAJOR SPOILERS HERE: There’s a primary metaphor in the book and the movie – that Portia is hiding a personal secret. The very title of the piece is intended as a double meaning – Admission refers both to letting people in and to acknowledging something to others or yourself. So what is Portia hiding behind a relatively colorless, work-centered life? As a 20 year old in college, she gave birth to a baby boy and gave that baby away for adoption. In the book, this secret is held from the reader for over 300 pages and the tone is decidedly more introspective. There are also multiple examples of adoption presented, including the fact that Portia’s mother has taken in a young pregnant woman who doesn’t want to keep her child. The catch for Portia is that Jeremiah, the 17 year old autodidact she’s championing, is apparently the son she gave up years ago. In the book, this is something that Portia realizes and deals with on her own. And the knowledge bolsters her commitment to make sure that Jeremy gets into Princeton, even if she has to break the rules to do so. The result of her actions, which are questionable on a variety of levels, is that Jeremy is admitted but Portia’s career is ended. From her perspective, she at least has been able to acknowledge her son and do one thing to help him from afar. It’s a downer of an ending, but it’s a realistic one.
MORE MAJOR SPOILERS: A viewer could rightly ask how that material would make for a fun or entertaining night at the movies. I would argue that it could, if handled well. Sadly, what has happened to this story on its way to the screen has had some unfortunate consequences. Karen Croner’s script streamlines much of the material, removes the pregnant woman at the mother’s home and removes much of the inner monologue from the book. The entire tone has been shifted to a much lighter, more wistful one than the book possesses. And beyond even that, the movie makes a major change that has drastic effects on the main characters. In the movie, Portia learns she may be Jeremiah’s mother from John, and she learns this very early on in the movie. Which means all of her efforts to get Jeremiah into Princeton are colored by this knowledge. It’s one thing in the book when Portia already finds him a worthwhile candidate before she puts two and two together. It’s quite another in the movie when Portia champions him early on BECAUSE she knows who he is. And it means that Portia is deliberately committing a major ethical breach for nearly the entire running time of the movie. It’s bad enough in the book when she does it late in the process. Compounding the problem is that the audience is expected to believe that John has been able to do an incredible piece of investigation to know about Portia’s past situation, connect her to Jeremiah and even dig up a birth certificate to prove it. This is a lot to ask anyone in terms of suspension of disbelief, and it changes the characters’ relationship. In the book, John is a love interest who Portia turns to at different times and who never knows the real connection between Portia and Jeremiah. In the movie, John is clearly playing an angle to get Jeremiah into Princeton. Frankly, these changes cheapen both of the primary characters in the movie. And that’s not even addressing the complete tonal change from the reserved nature of the book to the romantic comedy stylings of the movie.
EVEN MORE SPOILERS: Even if the viewer could stay with the movie after those problems, there is another curveball thrown in near the end that scatters any good intentions that were left. In the book, Portia doesn’t really interact much with Jeremiah and she never tells him her relationship with him. Most of her contact with Jeremiah, as it is with all of the potential students, comes through the orange folder of his application. But the movie makers have decided to add new scenes onto the end of the story. So they have Portia blurt the truth to Jeremiah after he learns he’s been admitted. Jeremiah tells her she ISN’T his mother after all, and that John misread that birth certificate. This derails her relationship with Jeremiah, and should destroy her relationship with John. Only the movie isn’t content to do that, so they somehow, impossibly have John patch things up with her, and they add on a scene where Portia applies unsuccessfully to meet her real son. It’s a spectacularly odd way to end the movie, both anticlimactic and downbeat. And it’s a hint at the confusion that’s been present in the storytelling throughout the film.
FINAL SPOILERS: The point of the book is that Portia, the proper admissions officer, has a secret sadness in her life, and that her act of acknowledging that completely upends her career but may actually give her a more worthwhile life. The point of the movie is, well, unclear. It appears that Paul Weitz wanted to make a sunnier version of the story, and he wanted to make Portia’s adoption issue the central focus from early on rather than a gradual reveal. But in doing so, he took most of the substance out of the story and fundamentally changed the main characters. The movie is frankly confused as to whether it’s a wistful dramedy or a sunnier romantic exercise. The performances by Fey, Rudd and Tomlin would lead anyone to think the movie is meant to be the sunny romantic idea. And yet Tina Fey still suggests something a little deeper in many moments – one wishes she’d been allowed to dig deeper. In summary, what seems to have happened is that the director misunderstood the material and fumbled an attempt to balance the movie somewhere between the comedy announced by the trailers and the more serious film that could have been made.
Admission has been released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition. The content is nearly identical for both releases. The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD release on a second disc within the plastic case.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Admission is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer at an average 33 mbps which shows off a fair amount of detail from the campus locations and wardrobe. This is a mostly warm-toned movie and the transfer reflects that emphasis. On a technical level, this Blu-ray delivers a fine picture.
Audio Rating: 4/5Admission is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (averaging 3.5 mbps) that tends toward the quieter end of the spectrum. Most of the mix is in the front channels, with some music coming through the surrounds. There are occasional moments where the subwoofer sparks to life, but overall, it’s not that kind of movie. The Blu-ray also includes a standard 5.1 DTS mix in Spanish.
Special Features: 0.5/5The Blu-ray presentation of Admission comes with a single bonus feature, a twelve minute promotional featurette. The packaging also includes the DVD release, which includes the featurette and a few selected previews. A digital copy is available online via pocket BLU or via a code included in the packaging. I should note that I was unable to make any use of BD-Live with this title.
Early Admission with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (1080p, 12:04) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is the standard making-of featurette, with plenty of mutual compliments between the cast and creative staff, intercut with film clips and video from the set. It’s frankly difficult to glean anything more from this piece than that everyone had a great time working with each other. An opportunity was missed here to really address how the movie dealt with the issues of the book, and to discuss what Paul Weitz was really trying to accomplish. Instead of that, we are left with only the usual EPK material.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live – At the time of review, I was unable to activate any BD-Live functionality and I could not find a link to it in the main menu.
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English (@448 kbps) and Spanish. The featurette is also included. A “Previews” menu allows access to anamorphic trailers for For A Good Time Call…, 30 Rock, Baby Mama, Role Models, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Wanderlust, Knocked Up and This is 40.
Digital Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie for your your laptop or portable device.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.