Croner’s price of ‘Admission’
by David Suissa
I rarely hear screenwriters say that they write movies because they have “something to say.” Building conflict, drama, characters, narrative flow, suspense, yes. But something to say? That feels more like the words of a documentary filmmaker.
Or the words of a weekly columnist like yours truly, who is always desperately looking for something to say.
But Karen Croner, whose new film Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, comes out this weekend, seems to be quite comfortable with that phrase.
It came up a few times in our conversation, although near the end she did try to walk it back: “Wait, I take that back! You don’t really need to have something to say. It’s perfectly OK just to do a great movie that’s entertaining.”
By then, though, she had already shared some insights about how her screenwriting career has been inseparable from her need to say something.
These “somethings” can get very personal. She worshiped her hard-working dad growing up, and swore to herself that she’d never become a stay-at-home mom like her mother. Over the years, she came to realize that her mother’s choice was not “suffocating,” but a way of expressing her deep love for her children.
That became “something to say,” and it found its way into one of her previous films, One True Thing.
For her latest film, Croner delved into the maddening world of school admissions. Her message? If you’re a parent desperate to get your kid into a great school, don’t let the rejections define your sense of self worth.
She interviewed countless admission officers and parents to get a better sense of the madness. Why madness? Well, she says, the boomers made a lot babies and, as a result, there simply aren’t enough great schools for all these aspiring Nobel Prize winners.
So the competition is crazy, and the process quite conducive to nervous breakdowns.
Poor kids nowadays, she says, can’t afford to spend their summers as a lifeguard or scooping up ice cream. They have to build huts in Guatemala or work on a water project with African tribes. Anything to build their “brands.”
As an admission officer told Croner during her research, “We tell these kids they are like blank cereal boxes. What will they put on their box to get our attention?”
And getting attention is the name of the game.
What got Croner’s attention was the seriousness of the issue, combined with the comedic possibilities.
She says the director, Paul Weitz, was the perfect choice for the film. His Checkovian approach looked for the “deep reality” behind the comedic surface.
The deep reality in Croner’s work is that while she might write films that have something to say, she wants her agenda to be invisible. She loathes the idea of a “message movie.” The message, if there is one, must be an organic part of the deep reality.
Having said that, she confesses that she wouldn’t mind writing a film one day where the only message is, “Wow, that was really entertaining.”Tags: Admission, Hollywood, Karen Croner, One True Thing, Paul Rudd, Paul Weitz, School admission, Screenwriting, Tina Fey