‘At Middleton’ a mawkish stab at a middle-age romantic drama

at middleton posterAt Middleton

Written by Glenn German and Adam Rodgers

Directed by Adam Rodgers

USA, 2013

The new drama At Middleton appears to be both for and created by the stereotypical teenager’s worst nightmare, their stereotypically embarrassing parents. Andy Garcia (who co-produced) and Vera Farmiga, in their best moments, have a decent enough chemistry, but for some strange reason, the script steers away from being something like a collegiate-themed Before Midnight and instead clutters the action with various vignettes that run the gamut from cloying and sentimental to downright painful. At best, this film is pleasantly familiar, but these moments are few and far between.

Garcia is George, an uptight heart surgeon bringing his son Conrad to Middleton College for an admissions tour. Farmiga is the flighty and more carefree Edith, bringing her daughter Audrey (Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga’s sister in real life, which makes this an odd bit of casting) to the same tour. Of course, as mismatched as George and Edith appear, they become fast friends during the tour, and possibly more, as they separate from the group and their own children. Conrad and Audrey have their own journeys, the former exploring the college radio station and the latter hoping to impress her idol, an iconic linguistics professor (Tom Skerritt).

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In the opening minutes, it’s a bit hard to buy Garcia, best known for less buttoned-down roles, as the tweedy George, but no worries there. Within only a few short scenes, George, perhaps inspired by his growing attraction to Edith, has become as much of a disruptive class clown on the tour as she is. Garcia’s a fine performer who doesn’t get enough good work, but even he can’t make George’s rapid transition, from forcing his laid-back son to wear a tie to giddily riding bicycles with Edith down the quad, believable. Farmiga is easier to accept as Edith, who’s clearly not fulfilled in her home life or with her strident daughter, and makes far less of a personal change throughout the day At Middleton covers. And, as mentioned, in those few scenes when all that’s occurring is George and Edith interacting with each other, and not one of many college-bound archetypes they come across, the movie tiptoes close to being slightly winning.

But more often than not, George and Edith aren’t on their own; for example, they play a goofy round of “Chopsticks” on a piano and that turns into a scene where they a) buck up the spirits of an overly stressed student and b) outrun the obese campus police for having stolen that pair of bikes. Or, they hide away in a darkened projector room to potentially reveal their true feelings for each other, but that turns into them chatting with the projectionist, who invites them to her dorm room to get high. (It is a particularly odd notion that the projectionist and her hirsute boyfriend would say they don’t have alcohol because they’re underage, but they have more marijuana than you can shake a stick at.) In part, At Middleton fails because it traffics in these tired clichés; however, it’s equally unsuccessful because the tonal shifts from scene to scene are just too hard to take. And the choice by screenwriters Glenn German and Adam Rodgers (the latter of whom directed the film) to push Conrad and Audrey into their own subplots, neither of which is particularly fleshed-out and seem to exist mostly to give Peter Riegert and Skerritt an easy paycheck, is misguided.

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Maybe if At Middleton was a bit longer and more focused in its tone, the film would’ve been fully rounded and genuinely enjoyable. No doubt, making a movie whose leads are middle-aged is an admirable decision. Seeing both of these actors out of their comfort zone—frankly, it’s just nice to see Vera Farmiga in a non-horror movie after the last couple of years—could be a potential surprise. But the execution of this most basic concept—two people getting to know each other on a very long day—is so muddled and lazy, as if the filmmakers were concerned that just watching Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga talk to each other in a no-frills situation for 2 hours wouldn’t be entertaining enough by itself. The sad truth is, that idea holds far more promise than the finished product of At Middleton.

— Josh Spiegel

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