The movie begins with Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) discussing college admissions. A tour guide stands inside the admissions building talking to prospective students. Portia comes out of the office and sees them she works at Princeton as an admissions counselor. She gives the kids a tip there is no secret to getting in. It’s admission time for the class of 2016, and everyone is stressed about it.
She gets a phone call in her office from John Pressman (Paul Rudd). He is a teacher from The Quest a high school in New Hampshire and he wants her to come visit and talk to his students about Princeton. Portia’s boss Clarence (Wallace Shawn) has a meeting with Portia and another admissions officer Corinne (Gloria Reuben), going over their schedule to visit high schools. He tells them he is retiring, and he wants his job to go to either one of them.
Portia goes to her office and obsessively cleans her desk before starting to read through applications. As she reads them, she sees visions of what the applicants look like as if they are reading their applications to her. A coworker of hers comes in and asks her about a kid he’s interested in from Alaska, but Portia reminds him not to get personal with the applicants.
At home, her friend comes over and asks her to watch her three kids for a few minutes, which leaves her in a state of shock and disarray. The kids just stand and scream until she picks them up. At the same time, her live-in boyfriend Mark (Michael Sheen) comes home and asks what she was thinking she’s terrible with kids! They have a seemingly boring but happy life together. She packs for her trip to the high schools hopefully this will be her last trip if she gets the promotion. He sits and reads poetry to her in bed.
The next day Portia begins her northeast tour to the high schools. She goes to all private schools. The most important thing she tells all the kids is to be passionate. She gets to The Quest school and it’s like a farm. The kids are learning how to make irrigation systems and things like that. She sees John and a kid who seems to be weird. During her speech, the kids are bored and start questioning her about Princeton like why do people need to go there. The last thing they care about is Princeton. This includes John’s 11 year old Ugandan adopted son Nelson (Travaris Spears). All they care about is improving the planet, which causes Portia to go on a tirade about how they still have to go to college. There is one kid who is interested however Jeremiah (Nat Wolff). John has the two of them talk and he calls him a prodigy.
Portia’s mom lives nearby, so she goes to stay with her. They don’t normally talk, and she is very eccentric and UNLIKE Portia. She just had a mastectomy and didn’t even tell Portia. That night John calls her and invites her out to dinner. He reveals that he has lived all over the world, and he and Nelson are leaving to go to Ecuador in a month and a half. When he drives her home they kiss. She freaks out and gets out of the car, but he tells her that he thinks Jeremiah is her son. John and Portia went to Dartmouth together and he starts to tell her the whole story, but she isn’t listening. Her mother comes out and shoots her rifle and John leaves.
Portia has to get home the next day for a lunch she and Mark are hosting at their house. Another coworker, Helen (Sonya Walger) comes into the kitchen, and when she leaves, Mark tells Portia that he got her pregnant with twins and is leaving her. He leaves right then and there, and Portia is left with all the guests. She goes into the pantry and cries when a professor named Polokov (Olek Krupa) comes to see her. He asks her about a book that her mother wrote that she has, and then he leaves.
That night, Portia goes back to work and reads more applications, falling asleep on her desk, and her office looks like a disaster. Clarence asks her if she needs a few days off and she assures him she is fine she doesn’t want to lose the job. Soon she sees John and Jeremiah on a tour of Princeton. She tells them to finish the tour and goes back to her office, but John follows her. He tells her that he was friends with her roommate Shelly who took her to the hospital when she had a baby, 2/14/1995, at 1 pm. When he saw Jeremiah’s birth certificate (he was adopted), he made the connection. He gives her a copy of the birth certificate.
Jeremiah is spending the night with a freshman and Portia goes to the party they are at to check on him. They go to the drugstore to buy him a toothbrush for the night, and it turns out they have a lot in common. She takes him back to the party and throws up, of course then seeing Mark and Helen together.
She keeps trying to call John, but he never answers, so she drives back to his school to talk to him. She talks to Nelson who doesn’t want to move to Ecuador. He likes Portia because she is “boring” and doesn’t move around. She finds John, and he is helping a cow give birth, which of course she and Jeremiah now have to assist with. The only advice she can give him is to hurry up with Jeremiah’s application.
Back at Princeton she calls John. Jeremiah’s application is horrible! He has suspensions and detentions and a D average! Amazingly enough though, he never took an AP class but has perfect AP test scores and SAT scores. John sends her a trophy that says “World’s Greatest Mom.” To help them, she sends him a bunch of books about how to get into college. She also reads Jeremiah’s application and his essay. He’s a genius. He learns for the sake of learning. To give him an advantage, she goes to the professor Polokov and asks him to meet with Jeremiah. He gives her a condition which is to meet her mother.
She goes back up to New Hampshire for Nelson’s birthday party. Polokov also goes and hangs out with her mom. John told her that Jeremiah has a unique talent which will look great for him getting into Princeton. The talent is being a terrible ventriloquist. Jeremiah’s parents pick him up, and Portia goes up to them and tells them that she loves them before leaving. Back in NJ she finds out that Nelson hid in the back of her car (must have been hard to lay back there for the 7 hour drive). She drives him back to New Hampshire (another 7 hours!), and John tells him how much he loves him and never to do that again. After Nelson goes to bed John and Portia hook up and have sex. She goes to her mother’s in the morning and we see that her mother also slept with Polokov. Polokov tells her that he thinks Jeremiah is unique and he will recommend him.
Jeremiah has an interview with an alumni. He is a jerk and John tells him so. Meanwhile, Portia goes to Corinne to get her on her side. At the final selection round table for admissions she sides with Corinne and her friend Ben (Michael Genadry) to get the kids they want admitted. Now it’s time for Jeremiah. She talks about him passionately but can only get Ben to side with her, everyone else denies him. In her grief she sees that Helen and Mark are engaged. She gets a phone call from a school counselor telling her that one of the kids they admitted is going to Yale and they can give his spot to someone else.
Portia breaks into someone’s computer and the files making it so that Jeremiah is admitted and the other kid that’s going to Yale is denied. Of course they find out, and Portia is forced to resign. John calls her and tells her that they are having a school dance, and she should go. She does and as soon as she gets there she kisses and sleeps with John. She finally gets the courage to tell Jeremiah that she’s his mother. She does, but he tells her that she’s NOT his mother. He met his real mother already. He wasn’t born at 1:00pm. He was born at 11:00 pm the number on the birth certificate was faded. He’s upset with her for not telling him what she thought and walks away. More upset than ever, Portia goes to John and yells at him and leaves. She goes to her mother’s and tells her that she can’t stand her either. Her mother tells her the true story Portia was a “wonderful accident” and she’s sorry she doesn’t know who her father is.
Back at Princeton, Portia sees Mark and Helen getting married and hits a car, breaking her arm. When she gets home, John is there waiting for her. He’s not moving anymore it’s time to do what Nelson wants to do. He asks her out again, and she says yes.
Skip ahead to the end of the summer. She has moved to New Hampshire and is staying with her mother. She goes to the adoption agency and tells them she wants to meet her son. At Jeremiah’s goodbye party she gets the mail which has a letter saying her son isn’t ready to meet her yet. She kisses John, and they are happy together.
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