“At Middleton” – a film review by Gary Chew
“At Middleton” is a movie that surprised me in an inverse manner. The entire first act of Adam Rodgers’ romantic comedy, set on an actual but fictitiously named modern day college campus, bored me with nagging ruthlessness. “Oh my God, what’s the running time on this turkey?” my mind whispered.
George (Andy Garcia), a cardiac surgeon, and his son Conrad (Spencer LoFranco) have come to Middleton for the old college tour. Is this where Conrad will begin his higher education? Edith (Vera Farmiga), has come for the same Middleton tour with Audrey, her daughter, played by Taissa Farmiga. Audrey is also on the cusp of university life.
The picture begins by establishing the tour which is made up of a large of group of parents and their almost adult children. Justin (Nicholas Braun), the currently enrolled student tour guide, has several speeches for purposes of exposition. Unfortunately, director Rodgers and Glenn German, who wrote the script, want you to laugh from the outset, and give their Justin character lines they intended to be funny. Some of the things Braun says as Justin tend to embarrass insofar as getting a laugh.
It’s not until well into “At Middleton” that the moviegoer gets to enjoy bursts of delight and touching emotion, as George and Edith get to know the other better, since, like me, the tour and the student tour guide are boring them. They take a tour of their own, and of course both George and Edith are happily married to their respective spouses, who have chosen not to be at Middleton on this day.
Conrad and Audrey, in parallel, are allowed shorter scenes to sharpen their acquaintance without benefit of the respective parent present. Audrey even sips twosome tea with a prospective adviser she’s read, and has impressed her thinking. Tom Skerritt plays the Middleton prof. His name is Emerson.
“Boneyard” is the gray-haired student radio station deejay Conrad spends time with. Like much of the movie, the broadcast schtick is pretty silly. Peter Reigert does the best he can in the “Boneyard” role. The only elderly guy I’ve ever seen in a student radio station was its chief engineer.
“At Middleton” is a family movie that boasts family members in the cast. Vera Farmiga is seen in her second film with her younger sister, Taissa. Their first together was “Higher Ground.” Andy Garcia plays some scenes in “At Middleton” with his daughter, Daniella Garcia-Lorido. Her character is a student named Daphne. Daniella had a bit part in a 2005 movie in which her father starred and was the director.
Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga are first rate actors. I loved Garcia in the 2009 picture “City Island” and Farmiga was great as director and star for her excellent 2011 film “Higher Ground.” It’s in “Higher Ground” that Taissa does the younger character her older sister plays as the lead. With such talent, it’s not surprising “Middleton” finds the way to better moments.
Two scenes between the elder Garcia and Farmiga stand out. One shows the couple chatting on a campus bench under a large tree. They’re making up their own definitions about who students are that randomly walk by. The second is a quite powerful scene. George and Edith spy on a Middleton acting class until the teacher calls on them to improvise for a long moment about their relationship — the instructor thinking that George and Edith are a married-to-each-other couple.
Good stuff here, and an important plot point for their happenstance, on-campus meeting to take an enormous step forward to the conclusion of a predictable movie that, at times, rises to the good occasion it sets for itself
I was able to see “At Middleton” before its local open. Sacramento’s Crest Theater ran the film via satellite from the East coast under the auspices of the New York Film Critics Series. Several movie theaters across the U.S. participate in monthly NYFS showings that include principal players and filmmakers live on stage interacting with the audience.