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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: At Middleton

Maudlin Middling "Middleton" Saved by Strong Performances

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: January 31, 2014 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Adam Rodgers
Writers: Glenn German, Adam Rodgers
Cast: Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga, Taissa Farmiga, 
Spencer Lofranco, Nicholas Braun, Tom Skerritt, 
Peter Riegert

"At Middleton" – set on an idyllic University campus – is as pretentious and artificial as the college experience itself. Perhaps it's trying too hard to be like the French romances it so obviously admires. It tends to be too "cute" for its own good: Multiple characters overuse jokey words such as "feckless" and "dingleberry," and there are several scenes depicting ridiculous displays of exuberance while a loud piano score booms in the background. Among them: two people joyously running through a fountain of water, the sun shining down dramatically over them at the top of a bell tower, and others too silly to "spoil" here.

Like a professor, "At Middleton" has a serious message to convey and much to teach – but that doesn't mean you'll walk out with any greater knowledge or deeper insight. For adults with college-age kids, much time has passed and many regrets begin to mount. Lost in the minutia of life, it is easy for 40-somethings to forget how to live. Meanwhile, many 17-year-olds tend to feel the pressure-cooker of college looming. They think their lives are already over before they've even begun. The movie says all of that, but similar to most college courses, its lessons are pretty shallow and you ultimately won't learn much. "Middleton" is more "Medicine 101" and less "Fundamentals of Brain Surgery." It's the cinematic equivalent of a flu shot: skin deep and barely scratches the surface.

As the movie begins, Edith (Vera Farmiga) is taking her daughter, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga, Vera's sister in real life), to see the Middleton campus. While there, they meet a father, George (Andy Garcia), and his son, Conrad (Spencer Lofranco). During the tour, the parents get separated from the children. From there, George and Edith get to know each other. Together, they experience a magical day that brings them new hope, reopens old wounds, fills their eyes with fresh tears, and whatever other ridiculous maudlin sentiments this overblown script forces them to feel.

And yet, despite all of that, "At Middleton" is not without its charms...

Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga sell the hell out of this middling material. Their incredible chemistry is almost enough to make it all work. Because of them, I can't bring myself to entirely dislike the film. I can recognize its flaws – of which there are many – but Garcia and Farmiga are undeniably great together. While the movie definitely belongs to them, the two kids are pretty damn good too – and there are a couple of memorable supporting appearances by veteran actors Tom Skerritt and Peter Riegert, both of whom are in fine form themselves. (Skerritt shares an explosive scene with Taissa Farmiga, while Riegert works wonderfully with young Spencer Lofranco.)

In the right mood, I could see myself taking another tour of "Middleton." It's far from perfect, but it does provide a fun time that feels good.