For many, college has always been the Holy Grail, a sign that you will be successful in life. For a significant number of my generation we had the privilege of being the first in the family to graduate college.
While many coming of age films have examined the process of getting into an institution of higher learning, Admissions takes this them and uses it as the background for an tender, emotional drama concerned with young woman at a life changing moment in her life.
Evie (Lauren Ambrose) is by all accounts the perfect candidate for any college she could desire. She is intelligent, writes poetry, great in math and caring towards her mentally challenged sister Emily (Taylor Roberts).
Resultant of a childhood accident Emily is childlike, wide-eyed and innocent towards the world. She is also a savant, possessing the uncanny ability to recite anything she hears, from complete plays to the poems Evie creates. Evie never told anyone else about her poetry, it was a special thing between her and Emily.
As Admissions opens we see Evie on her way to one of her college interviews. We see several interviews and each time Evie ruins her chances with a flippant attitude, not someone to be seriously considered for admission.
Admissions naturally enough examines why she does this but what makes Admissions above so many others is the skill that is used to let the story unfold.
Evie never considers Emily a burden. She truly loves her sister. They have a special bond that transcends Emily’s disability.
Emily loves birds; she can name any bird she sees by its formal Latin name to the delight of Evie. In fact, Evie’s nickname for Emily is ‘Duck’.
Their mother Martha (Amy Madigan) feels responsible for the fall that injured Emily, a burden that has followed her for many years. After hearing Emily recite poems that she could not identify Martha calls the local high school English teacher Mr. Worthy (Christopher Lloyd) who confirms that they where not written by a known author and attributes them to Emily’s savant abilities.
The poems are actually Evie’s and she allows the adults to remain in the dark of the poem’s origins, partly to make Emily feel good but also to give some relief to the pain her mother feels.
Evie is very much isolated. She spends every minute possible with Emily and since her mother never travels to the interviews with her, even her road trips are alone. She does have a life long friend James (Fran Kranz).
While he would like a more romantic relationship with Evie she declines to attend the prom with him. James is understanding but confused when he learns that Evie can’t even remember if she applied to Yale, the school he was just accepted to attend.
While many films about high school seniors would have gone to the more puerile and physical relationship here, the cast and crew of Admissions keeps to the high road with a very real and sensitive bond between the two.
The only other person that Evie can turn to is her father Harry (John Savage), an investment banker who is obsessed with is extensive model train collection.
Lauren Ambrose has become one of the better young actresses around today. Her work on the dark Six Feet Under has given her the opportunity to spread her wings and hone her craft.
In the interview scenes she is giddy, nonchalant almost on a high. She can then move seamlessly into a caring scene with Emily and then to a full emotional release at the end of Admissions. With her youth, bright red hair and porcelain completion Ms Ambrose may not look like an actress that can summons such range but she does.
Taylor Roberts may not have a large resume; her only other film was a minor role in Mona Lisa Smile but her she was excellent. While many actors play the mentally challenged a bit too over the top Roberts nails the character of Emily. She comes across as sweet, happy and one who loves her family, especially her sister.
There is no tug at the heartstrings in her performance, we accept Emily not piety her. There is also a real chemistry between these two women, one that allows us to become emotionally vested in their performances.
Amy Madigan gives a great performance as the mother of these two girls. Madigan has a long and varied career but there is one thing her work has in common, she is a consummate professional that always gives her all.
In her role as Martha she gives us a character that we can connect with even though we don’t envy her position. Full of self-blame, ignoring the bright daughter in favor of the one with special needs, she is a woman trapped by circumstances.
Director Melissa Painter has only a few films to her name. Almost all concerned with a troubled young girl, but she has the talent to pull it off without coming across as a one-note director.
Here Painter allows Admissions to blossom organically; there is never a feeling that things are rushed or artificial. The pacing here is incredible; I was immediately drawn into the story. She allows her actors to take the lead, doing what they do best and the result is a really worthwhile film.
There is booming sound track full of popular songs; the music is beneath, reinforcing the emotions presented by the actors. This in itself was refreshing since most movies with a young cast seem to feel obliged to sound like MTV.
Dawn O’Leary who also wrote the screenplay bases admissions on the play. The film has the feel of a play, intimate and smoothly done.
Hart Sharp Video has been releasing its Sundance collection and after reviewing several know I may have not heard of some of them but I have never been disappointed. Not only do they select quality films but also they give attention to the DVD presentation.
The audio was Dolby 5.1 not the usual stereo many studios use in less known films. The sound field is full but not overpowering. While the sub woofer remains silent the rear speakers do give a full ambience.
The video is in anamorphic 1.85:1. The color balance was excellent, the flesh tones natural and the many outdoor scenes very rich.
If you are tied of the same old films, recanting over used plots try something different, something better, pick Admissions up and enjoy.
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