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.
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.
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?
is asking some hard, probing questions. Sadly, it only
sometimes is able to answer them satisfactorily. It doesn't even
always seem to try. At
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.
annoy each other so greatly upon their first meeting that the audience just
knows that they will soon become fascinated with each other.
entirety of At Middleton takes place on that single day.
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 supressing
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.
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
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
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.
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.)
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.
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All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2014.