Sundance Channel // 2004 // 84 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // July 29th, 2005
A lie sets off a chain of fortunate events.
In America, the college experience has become such an expected, inevitable milestone in a young person's maturation process that many people never stop to consider that there are those who are not yet ready to take that big step in their lives, be it for personal, emotional, or any number of other reasons. Evie Brighton (Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under) seems poised for a dazzling collegiate career: she's intelligent, creative, and a star student that all of her high school teachers single out for praise. But after she quickly sabotages her admission interviews at Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale, and several other prestigious universities, it becomes obvious that Evie is hiding deep emotional problems beneath her cheerful, happy-go-lucky facade.
The problem is, nobody in her life seems to notice this until it's nearly too late. Her mother, Martha (Amy Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime), is so consumed with guilt after an accident leaves Evie's older sister Emily (Taylor Roberts, Mona Lisa Smile) mentally handicapped that she fails to notice anything troubling in Evie's behavior. The situation escalates after Martha contacts Evie's English teacher (Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame), because Emily has begun to recite complex original poems, despite being completely illiterate. The stunned teacher quickly books an appearance for Emily on cable television, not knowing that Evie is the real author of the poems. Evie keeps quiet, convinced that Emily's success will help alleviate some of their mother's guilt and anger.
Despite its intriguing plot summary, I went into Admissions with slight trepidation. This is quite obviously yet another one of those highly charged, relationship-driven films, full of flawed, intentionally quirky characters, that seems to flood independent theaters every year in an endless, undecipherable mass. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Admissions is not only well acted (which is to be expected from such a capable cast), but an interesting drama that takes on some issues and ideas that aren't often explored in teen-oriented films. College, according to most Hollywood depictions, is a never-ending frat party populated with gorgeous girls and sex-craved jocks, a glamorous symbol of all things fun and rebellious. But in reality, all prospective college students are as petrified as they are excited about cutting ties from home and high school and embarking on a new phase in their lives, and Admissions does a good job at capturing a little bit of that bewildering emotional state, while placing it within the context of a larger family dynamic.
"Admissions" is a clever word to use as the title of this film, for on the most obvious level, it refers to the college admissions process that plays an integral role in the first half of the film. As the film unfolds, however, it could also refer to the multiple admissions made by the various characters, as lies are unmasked and family secrets are revealed. For though it starts in the style of a teen drama, Admissions ends up having more similarities to a twisty, emotionally draining Tennessee Williams play.
As I have never had the opportunity to see an episode of Six Feet Under, my first experience with Lauren Ambrose was in a production of Sam Shepard's Buried Child which ran at London's National Theatre in the Fall of 2004. Her character in that play (about an unassuming girl who begins to show neurotic tendencies as she find herself in the middle of a family meltdown) bears more than a passing resemblances to the character of Evie (particularly during the big, revelatory confrontation), and Ms. Ambrose is as excellent in this film as she was in the play. Ms. Ambrose has been hailed as one of the most promising young actresses working today, and Admissions is as good a demonstration as any as to why she deserves such accolades.
Likewise, Amy Madigan is also very good in a difficult role which forces her to be a conflicted, confused, and rather unsympathetic monster through most of the film. The other standout performance comes from Fran Kranz, the guy next door who is Evie's only friend and also a potential love interest. Kranz, who has appeared in bit parts in films ranging from Donnie Darko to The Village, provides the much-needed emotional stability in the film, and he gives a very natural and believable performance as a guy who is not only dealing with problems and insecurities of his own (he's leaving for college himself), but is trying to figure out and help the girl he has secretly had a crush on for years.
Admissions, part of the Sundance Channel Series, is given a nice widescreen transfer for what is obviously a low-budget little film, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track matches it in quality (that is, it's not amazing but is certainly more than acceptable in this situation). Unfortunately, no subtitles are included. The sole "extras" include the film's theatrical trailer and a trailer gallery for several other independent films.
Admissions, though perhaps not a particularly noteworthy film, is a nicely played little ensemble drama with some interesting things to say about family guilt, personal maturation, and the scary, unpredictable times leading up to the college experience. It's certainly worth a watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sundance Channel
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer
* Trailer Gallery