I am about to write the most depressing sentence you will read all day: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have no chemistry together.
I know, right?
I mean, everyone loves Tina Fey and everyone loves Paul Rudd so the idea of putting them together just seemed like a no-brainer, a match made in rom-com heaven. But there are zero sparks. Zero. Every time they kissed, I was actively puzzled: Why are the nice friends kissing each other?
Their lack of chemistry, though, is a rather apt analogy for this bump-on-a-log of a film. It’s a dud—tonally confused, narratively moribund, painfully unfunny, unsuccessful in almost every respect.
Fey plays Portia Nathan, a by-the-book admissions counselor for Princeton. Her life is thrown into a tailspin when her boyfriend (Michael Sheen) dumps her and she goes on an admissions trip to a small alternative high school that resembles no school on earth (it’s on a farm, and seems to have about 13 students and one teacher). That teacher, John (Rudd), is eager to introduce her to one particular student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who wants to go to Princeton. In one of the film’s many far-fetched contrivances, John is convinced that Jeremiah is the son that Portia gave up for adoption in college (don’t ask). Portia’s relationships with Jeremiah, an autodidact with a livewire mind that “goes on walkabouts,” plus the global do-gooder John, his adopted son Nelson (Travaris Spears), and Portia’s hippie feminist mother (Lily Tomlin) make up the balance of the film.
But we’re not invested in any of these relationships. In fact, there are a few allegedly “emotional” scenes between Tomlin and Fey that are simply awkward to watch. What’s more, Jeremiah may be a brilliant kid but he’s a disastrous choice for the buttoned-down Princeton and it’s rather unbelievable that he’d even want to go there to begin with (he’s a Bennington/Hampshire kinda kid all the way.)
It’s a shame, because a lot of really smart people are behind the film—it’s directed by Paul Weitz , who directed my beloved About a Boy— and you can see maybe (kinda sorta) why they thought it would be a good movie. (The scenes showcasing the impersonal admissions process at Princeton are among the few that work.)
Yeah, when bad movies happen to your faves. It happens. I’m bummed about it, too. Just remember: Don’t blame the messenger.