Tina Fey plays a Princeton college admissions officer who must decide whether or not to admit a student who may be her son. (David Lee / Focus Features)
When in doubt, ma'am, just ask yourself: What would Tina Fey do?
The wrong thing, no doubt, since that tends to cause comedy. But ultimately she always stumbles on the right thing and inevitably does that as well. Since bursting forth from "Saturday Night Live," Fey has become something of our national female comic conscience.
That conscience struggles in "Admission," a semi-serious look at opportunities lost and found, responsibilities shirked and the pressure to live up to standards. Directed by Paul Weitz ("About a Boy"), Fey stars as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton, where most applications are promptly rejected.
The principal (Paul Rudd) of a New England new-age school introduces her to a student (Nat Wolff) he thinks should go to Princeton. On the good side, the kid is self-taught and brilliant; on the bad, he's always been bored by school and his grades are poor.
On the personal side, the principal confides to Portia that he thinks the kid is the baby she gave up for adoption while in college (don't ask how he knows, it's a stretch).
So even though "Admission" has the usual gaggle of amusing characters (Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn) and a rom-com connection between Rudd and Fey, it also has some moral queasiness. Does she cheat the system to get the kid in? Should she tell him her suspicions? Is she too stuck in a rut to find a new life?
None of the answers shock; in fact, they all seem like things Tina would do — sincere, risky, a bit wacky and morally gray.
The dizzy bits tend to distract from real concerns here — Portia essentially regrets her last 20 years, which is no joke — but Weitz manages the balance well enough. With Tina's help.
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material
Running time: 117 minutes