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At Middleton (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

At Middleton


Starring Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga, Taissa Farmiga, Spencer Lofranco, Nicholas Braun, Tom Skerritt, Peter Riegert, Mirjana Jokovic, Daniella Garcia-Lorido, Stephen Borrello, Saxton Johnson, Sean Cook, Loretta Underwood, Kenny Parks Jr., Victoria Mae Gatts and Briana Henry.

Screenplay by Glenn German & Adam Rodgers.

Directed by Adam Rodgers.

Distributed by Anchor Bay Films. 99 minutes. Rated R.

There are certain movies that you want to like so much that it eventually gets a bit annoying when they repeatedly squander opportunities to be something special and instead settle for just being average.  At Middleton has a nice cast, an intriguing idea, a beautiful setting and the chance to stand out from the crowd.  Instead, it is a slightly above average romantic comedy which could have been so much better if only a little more care or imagination were expended.

The movie should be unique simply from its structure: it is a romantic comedy which takes place on a bucolic college campus, but it is not between two dreamy-eyed students or even love-starved professors.  Instead it tells about the chance meeting of two unhappily married parents who are both taking their only child to tour a college campus where they quite likely will be going the next year, leaving the parents in an empty nest situation with a spouse for whom they long ago lost passion.

Their entire experience can only last a few hours… or can it?  How much can you learn about another person in a few hours?  Is a sudden infatuation worth throwing away everything you have built up in your life leading up to this?  For that matter, can you really make a snap assessment of a person to the point where you might even be able to try in a single day?  Is this just an extreme reaction to all the other changes going on in life?

At Middleton is asking some hard, probing questions.  Sadly, it only sometimes is able to answer them satisfactorily.  It doesn’t even always seem to try.

The two parents are George (Andy Garcia), a rather repressed brain surgeon, and Edith (Vera Farmiga), a free-spirited owner of a children’s furniture shop.  They meet cute (she pulls into a parking spot which he was planning to back into!) and immediately antagonize each other as they bring their kids to take a tour of the bucolic campus of (fictional) Middleton College.

They annoy each other so greatly upon their first meeting that the audience just knows that they will soon become fascinated with each other.

The entirety of At Middleton takes place on that single day.

We are actually introduced to the families in their cars on the way to the school.  Edith is somewhat unenthusiastic to take the trip – her way of suppressing the idea that her baby is going to be leaving the nest – but extremely driven daughter Audrey is already sold on the school.  Vera Farmiga's younger sister Taissa (American Horror Story) plays the daughter, and their familial bond and love is glowingly apparent in the all too few scenes they have together.

On the other hand, George is very excited to share the adventure with his somewhat slacker son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), even pressuring the kid to wear a tie, but the son can't be bothered with the tour of the school.

Edith's lackadaisical approach to the whole thing starts getting on Audrey's nerves and George's micromanaging starts bugging Conrad, so the two parents each slip away from the group for reasons both unimportant (she needs coffee and to use the bathroom) and vital (he needs to discuss sudden changes in a patient's health). 

Eventually, realizing that they are something of an embarrassment to their children, George and Edith start exploring the campus on their own, chatting and getting to know each other, and eventually feeling an odd camaraderie and attraction.  They have a series of adventures: they break into the school bell tower, steal (she insists it is just borrowing) two bicycles, sit through a drama class, kiss in a projection booth, watch a bit of the old French film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, take part in the campus tradition of getting soaked by the fountain and even get high with some students.

In the meantime, the two kids are becoming somewhat friendly themselves, though she is too much like his father and he is too much like her mother for them to completely bond.  They also meet faculty advisors (bit parts by old pros Peter Riegert and Tom Skerritt) who make them realize that life on campus was nothing like they had assumed it would be – for better or worse.

Much of this is fun and much of this is charming, but it never quite comes together as a whole.  Part of it is the fact that Garcia and Farmiga are a bit hard to picture as a couple, and not just because he is almost 20 years older than her.  (Though that does not help.) 

In the end, it seems that At Middleton is a bit too much of a trifle to bring together the bigger concerns and life lessons which it is trying, in its genial way, to impart.  The film turns out to be a charming and somewhat funny coming of (old) age film, but never quite achieves its higher aspirations of being anything more than that.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2014.


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