So Admission came out this past weekend, and most critics can’t write up rejection letters fast enough. I didn’t watch it, but that says less about the movie and more about the fact that nothing makes your chest hair fall out faster than skipping the NCAA tournament to go see a romantic comedy. The interesting narrative behind the film’s failure is that Tina Fey’s often hailed comedic genius is now being publicly questioned. A few snippets include:
“Didn't Fey recognize how hackneyed it all is?” – Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
“Tina Fey, continue your domestication process.” – John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal
“Tina Fey, despite her dominance of the small screen, has not yet mastered the big one.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m not here to say that any of these critics are wrong. They’re probably right. But here's a basic question posed to the readers of PolicyMic: Are we expecting too much from Fey? My opinion: I don't want to live in a world in which we hedge expectations to spare feelings.
Let me get my bias out right away. I love Fey, even waning to the inappropriate. I was 22 when she went supernova by playing an exquisite Sarah Palin, and in the categorized role play fantasies of my mind, Fey as Palin leap-frogged this weird Bush and Al-Qaeda thing for number one in the "political" category (Kennedy/Monroe and Clinton/Lewinsky never got a fair shake due to my conservative upbringing … you know, I’m going to stop talking about this, I can email my complete power rankings to any of you sickos that ask for them).
But Fey has always been great, even outside of the famous Palin role. 30 Rock was one of the funniest shows of the past decade, Date Night and Mean Girls showcased Fey's talents as both an actress and a screenwriter, and she’s in the SNL hall of fame no matter who's writing the ballot. She's been one of the greatest comics of this young millennium and she deserves to feel the weight of the expectations she's created. It's because I'm such a big Fey fan that I say we're not expecting too much from her. She's earned these expectations, and to lower them would be a disservice to her sparkling career.
The thing about expectations is that even when they're not fair, they are usually just. They define your opportunities in life. The smart kid is expected to get good grades, and when he does, he gets the best job opportunities. That's the good side of the coin. But expectations are also persistent and unyielding, and if you don't keep up, they can define the depth of your failure. Tiger Woods regained the world's number one ranking as a golfer this week. The first thing I heard on the radio was the host's voice saying, "The question now becomes how long can he stay there?" No one is asking whether we expect too much from Woods. He was too great for too long for us to accept him as anything but great. He had the most talent, the smart kid of whom As were expected. The world rewarded him for not squandering it. Until he squandered it. After his dramatic fall from both athletic and popular grace, he will never be rewarded in the same way again, especially if he's performing below his "greatest ever" expectations as a golfer.
Fey, like Woods, has been consistently great. Like Woods, she's pushed our expectations of her comedy to a high level, and the question we're asking is how long will she be able to stay there? I know none of us want to believe she's jumped the shark, and frankly, it's far too soon to be able to tell. I don't know if Admission is Fey's metaphorical Uchitel, but I doubt it. It's certainly too soon to regret sky-high expectations, because they serve as evidence that she is great. Or at least that she has been great. If Fey's career dims and we see this "dark side of the mom" persona she's been so great at playing finally run out of jokes, then I'll adjust my expectations and go on with life. But until then, I want to be excited about her work, and the only way that will happen is to keep the burden of expectations squarely on her capable shoulders.