There’s a good movie to be made about college applications and the ungodly pressure that the process places on stressed-out teenagers, but “Acceptance” isn’t it. Whatever the tone of Susan Coll’s novel, it doesn’t translate very well into a made-for-TV movie that seems to employ a kitchen-sink approach — filled with cartoonish parents and too-precious (and generally adult-looking) kids. The subject matter may still resonate as back-to-school fodder, but only by grading on a charitable curve.
Although described as a comedy (really, if we have to watch these things, the PR departments should too), “Acceptance” has far more schmaltz than laughs. Mae Whitman (“Nights in Rodanthe”) stars as Taylor Rockefeller, who along with her friends is being prodded to gain admission to a topnotch school — even as they deal with an assortment of “after school special”-type problems.
In Taylor’s case, that includes a ditsy mom (Joan Cusack) separated from her more down-to-earth dad (Mark Moses). Meanwhile, poor Maya (Deepti Daryanani) chafes against nagging from her immigrant parents even as she engages in a flirtation with a handsome teacher and (gasp) resists pursuing a science-based career for the arts. And Harry (Jonathan Keltz) is so obsessed with getting into Harvard, there’s no telling how he’ll respond if he doesn’t.
There are adults here too, including Brigid Brannagh as a college admissions officer having an affair with a colleague, but as directed by Sanaa Hamri from Suzette Couture’s disjointed script, most of the subplots play like time-killing detours. It’s all pretty heavy-handed — including the meaning finally associated with the title in Taylor’s whiny voiceover narration.
As a consequence, Whitman comes across as shrill and annoying. Mercifully, her pals played by Keltz and Daryanani fare somewhat better, but with the story sprayed in so many directions, their characters, too, are wafer thin.
The cross-generational aspects doubtless seemed like a no-brainer to Lifetime, which covets material that appeals to young women and their moms as well. Even so, there’s considerable irony in a movie about the burden of academic aspirations that, at best, settles for just skating by.