When he first took what he calls a mental "x-ray" of Jean Hanff Korelitz's book Admission, director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, Little Fockers) says he knew it would make a good movie. The book is about a 38-year-old college admissions officer at Princeton University whose life takes a dramatic turn when she has to make a personal "admission" about something from her past.
"I really liked the book," says Weitz, whose film opens Friday. "It's about how a woman who has decided not to have kids and is dealing with kids at arm's length is now dealing with kids and has a day of reckoning with her own phobias. It's the idea of somebody who has made a choice not to be something but on some level they have a boomerang of that choice."
Tina Fey stars as Portia, a woman wound so tight that she adheres to very strict routines and doesn't even notice that her live-in boyfriend (Michael Sheen) has mentally checked out and is no longer passionate about their relationship. While the dissolution of their relationship troubles her, she receives even more distressing news when she meets John (Paul Rudd), a high school teacher who tracks her down because he thinks one of his students (Nat Wolff) might be the child that Portia gave up for adoption years ago. A potent mix of comedy and drama ensues.
Weitz says Rudd initially turned down the part because he thought the character was "too soft" and "a cliché." But after a few rewrites, Weitz convinced him to take the role, and it marks the first time that the two comedic actors — acquaintances for years — have ever worked together on a feature-length film.
"I was excited to write about a dad who was giving his kid a hard time," says Weitz of Rudd's character after he made a few changes. "I think that's how love expresses itself. I was excited about this character who was yelling at his kid and giving the kid a hard time."
Famous as a member of the band that played on The Naked Brothers Band, a teen pop music show, Wolff holds his own as the seemingly autistic kid who may or may not related to Portia.
"I didn't know that he was part of The Naked Brothers," Weitz admits. "He did a great audition and has a tiny touch of Dustin Hoffman. He won a contest as a kid where he got to have an acting lesson from Dustin Hoffman. That can slip into a crutch but he manages to avoid it."
Veteran comic Lily Tomlin rounds out the cast and portrays Portia's mother Susannah. A stern feminist, Susannah constantly clashes with Portia and the mother-daughter interaction makes for some of the film's most awkwardly funny scenes.
For Weitz, the film's strength is that it centers on what he calls a "gray area" that he finds intriguing.
"I have three little kids and certainly parenting has changed over the years," he says. "And my dad's generation is a World War II generation so his parents were very strict and their methods would be ineffective with my kids. The question does present itself whether you're going to be good at parenting. I identity with the feeling that I don't have anything to offer as a parent and yet somehow I'm in control of this kid."