At Middleton (2013)
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It subverts the college student rom-com by focusing on the parents at their nest emptying. For both generations this new liberation can be terrifying. As Edith tells another parent, the kids' departure leaves the parents realizing how little they know or are connected to their 18-year partners. The theatrical scene Edith plays with George reveals how a marriage can hide lives of quiet desperation. In the crowning irony, the two college roommates coolly watch the two adults getting stoned and acting wacky, under their knowing eye.
The film also replays the old Benedict/Beatrice device of characters who initially snipe at each other gradually discovering themselves simpatico. George and Edith begin and end as opposites, but they switch poles. At first he's the rod-ass and she's the bohemian free spirit. She cures his fear of heights, he her temptation to be totally carefree. By the end he's loosened up enough to want to have an affair with her and she retreats to the safer ground of self-denial.
Their respective kids replay that shift. Conrad leaves the security of his studly "million dollar smile" to pursue his disembodied, faceless role on campus radio. Wilder and more precocious Audrey takes to heart her idol's distinction between healthy ambition and unhealthy obsession.
In both those relationships — and in the respective parents' scenes with their kids — there is ample demonstration of what Audrey reads from her idol's book: linguistics must deal with what is not said as much as with what is. Heard sentences are meaty but those unheard are meatier. Hence the really delicate work in facial expression and body language throughout, especially as the leads increasingly open up and connect. Hence the confessional Truth behind the two parents stage "performance."
The campus name, Middleton, puts all its characters in some middle. The two teens are pivoting into adulthood. The two parents are turning from the stability of their unfulfilling marriages into self-realization — or not. Both turn passive at the moment of decision, as imaged in their letting their kids drive. When George prefers the long way home he's taking more time to face the life he dreads, to put behind the happier alternative he has just encountered. Informed by the reflections on French films, we don't get the usual American film's happy ending. But the chance remains. We're hoping this one-shot might lead to a Richard Linklater trilogy where we can follow these so very touching and appealing lovers into a happier afterlife.
Finally the film is about what a college education should be. The two parents get a college education in one day when they meet new people, try out each other's alien perspectives and experience, act out exploratory expressions of themselves, learn to breathe more freely and deeply, get new insight into themselves and each other, test experimental things they never would in their outside (aka "real") lives, and end up significantly altered, illuminated, broadened in understanding and emotion, whichever road they pursue.
It's an idyllic university, a slice of heaven, so the disciplines represented are literature, language, horticulture, the arts, and the pulse is in the library. The linguistics (!) professor's office is a jaw-dropper. The salutary absence of Business, High Tech, a football team, make the setting as Edenic as the two leads' romantic discovery. For more see www.yacowar.blogspot.com
This movie is not so much about these two characters falling in love. It's all about the few hours it takes for them to go from strangers to close friends and the number of comedic adventures they manage to pack into a day back at college for both of them. Heavy on the comedy, light on the romance. If you think of all the opportunities a college might offer as a backdrop for this story arc, well they're all in there. It's a sweet, comfortable movie—sort of like macaroni and cheese—with some very smart, funny dialog written for the characters.
A pleasant way to spend the afternoon, which is what I did thanks to the San Jose Camera Cinema Club.
I've yet to see a better, more realistic depiction of the fears parents face as kids leave the nest and we're left wondering not only if we adequately prepared our children for the real world but if WE are prepared for the reality of our long-term marriage once the kids are out of the house. The interaction of the actors — mother and daughter, father and son, strangers meeting and feeling something they never expected — is amusing at times, heartbreaking at others, real and true throughout.
I find no flaws with AT MIDDLETON. The writing, acting, chemistry between the actors, music and even the setting were truly delightful. I don't typically watch movies more than once. I've no doubt, though, that I'll be watching AT MIDDLETON again... and again.
"At Middleton" seems to describe an ordinary day, but it turns out to be extraordinary. The plot is simple and refreshing, and it feels very real life. How the four main characters change throughout the day is engaging to watch. How they found what they really want but haven't been looking for is really beautiful to watch. The ending is rather open ended, leaving viewers room to imagine what life will be like for the four people after this fateful day. This film is a film to feel and savour, because it's such an authentic real life experience.
At Middleton shows what seems to be forgotten in contemporary movie-making: Actors performing the art of acting in front of a camera. There is an incredible chemistry between Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, culminating in the scene where they participate in a class led by Mirjana Jokovic.
This is a small movie that has a lot of pleasant surprises...
Despite the best of intentions, "At Middleton" feels phony from the get-go. We get the sense that Edith and George are unreasonably antagonistic towards one another at the beginning just so they can become an item by the end. And things don't get any better from there, as the parents proceed to make fun of the tour guide, steal bikes from some unsuspecting students on campus, horn in on an acting class, smooch in a projection booth, get stoned in a dorm room, and in general act superior to everyone they meet, with corn, affectation and heavy-handed life lessons the order of the day.
Though the movie tries very hard to achieve moments of "little people" sentimental uplift, virtually every scene in "At Middleton" emerges as hopelessly contrived and calculated, a reflection more on the screenwriters Glenn German and Adam Rogers (who also directed the movie) than on the actors, who do their best under the circumstances. Farigna, so impressive in TV's "Bates Motel," comes across as unnecessarily grating at times, the result of a grown woman behaving in a less mature fashion than her teenaged daughter perhaps, her joie de vivre and truth-telling assertiveness, which might have seemed refreshing in small doses, ultimately falling over the edge into obnoxiousness (though she does well playing opposite her real life daughter). As the buttoned-down heart surgeon who really needs to loosen up and learn how to enjoy life, Garcia is constrained by having to embody a character with no truly interesting or compelling personal traits (the fact that he's supposed to be that way doesn't exactly make him any more interesting).
I know we're supposed to be moved and inspired by what's happening between Edith and George, but all I could think about while watching their story unfold is how some parents just can't help making what is supposed to be a special day for their kids really all about themselves.
At Middleton is one of those films that are hard to review because the dialogue is so cheesy and over the top while the performances are charming and engaging. It's not a good film, but one that works for a certain audience that can appreciate the two lead performances despite the flaws. It's a film about two unlikely people making a connection and if you buy in to that connection you will enjoy this film. The problem is that I never believed these two characters would connect in the way they did and everything felt false despite the sparks of charm and sweetness that the film evokes. It's hard not to enjoy a film starring a funny Andy Garcia (getting away from the dramatic roles we've seen him in) and a lovable Vera Farmiga. Both actors are stunning and enjoyable despite the weak material they had to work with. Several moments felt forced, but the chemistry between the two actors make this film tolerable. At Middleton is Adam Rogers first feature film and he co-wrote the script with Glenn German. It tries to be a mature romantic film about marriage and preparing for the empty nest, but it ended up feeling like a movie you'd catch on Lifetime or the Hallmark channel.
The film takes place during the course of one day as two families are heading to a college tour at Middleton. On the one hand there is Edith (Vera Farmiga) a married businesswoman driving her teenage daughter, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga) to the tour. Audrey is excited about Middleton because she wants the best linguistic professor in the country, Dr. Emerson (Tom Skerrit) to be her adviser. Then we are introduced to George Hartman (Andy Garcia), a heart surgeon who is almost forcing his son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) to get excited about the tour at Middleton. Once both families arrive at the campus their paths cross during the tour and eventually Edith and George get separated from the rest of the group and spend the rest of the day getting to know each other while they decide to take their own private tour of the college. Despite not liking each other at first, they quickly make a connection and as the day goes on they begin falling for each other.
Halfway through the film I already knew where we were going to end up. It ended as I predicted, but I still enjoyed some of the moments in the film. The chemistry between both actors is charming and sweet despite the fact that most of the film felt forced. The two kids in this film did a decent job as well. Taissa Farmiga plays Vera's daughter although in real life the two are sisters. She does a decent job, but the truth of the matter is that Vera and Andy Garcia are the heart and soul of this film. They make this a watchable film although I wouldn't recommend it. There are some nice sparks that make the film feel pleasant at times and it looks good, but it was just a bit too cheesy for my liking. At Middleton is a bittersweet meh movie; nothing more to add here.
If you think that someone might actually say that, and that someone else would crack up laughing when they did—then have I got a movie for you! (I admit I overlooked some obvious red flags in the reviews on IMDb before we sent for the disk from Netflix b/c I like to err on the side of Vera Farmiga.)
She and her way-younger sister Taissa make a convincing mother-daughter combo, and Andy Garcia's not bad either, but the romcom cliché plot (free-spirited babe awakens uptight guy's inner child) and the trying-too-hard dialogue were just too much for us. There's also a lot of silly filler—montage of carefree bicycle ride around sunny campus; Vera scampers up staircase of church belfry while acrophobe Garcia clings to the railing .
We pressed the Stop button shortly after the above exchange, and from what I gather from the reviews when I ✔ed them out again, the first half of the movie was the good part.
Unsurprising and happily I was not disappointed. Right from the start it hit the spot for some reason. Some might say it was a bit unrealistic, but for me it was just fun. It might be the romantic in me. It is noticeable that all the actors had a good time making this film and it was not surprising when I read that this was filmed over a very short time. The chemistry between Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga was pretty close to perfect.
Watch it if you get a chance you wont be disappointed.
To begin, the Farmiga sisters play mother and daughter, which is comical to me. Realize though, there is an 18+ year age difference and it strangely works well. Vera plays Edith who is a liberal, almost bohemian, and yet holds some of the neurotic nature of Norma Bates, which I guess maybe her Vera's signature? Taissa, on the other hand, has a slightly intense character, named Audrey, which has some of Edith's traits, but possibly also her unseen father. Alongside them are George (played by Andy Garcia) and his son Conrad (played by Spencer Lofranco). Both characters play opposite to their similarly aged counterparts with George being straitlaced, conservative and a bit fearful of life, while Conrad is far more laid back and charming than Taissa's Audrey. In a way, Conrad seems like he could be Edith's son and Audrey seems like she should be George's daughter.
That dynamic isn't played up in the movie, but the whole idea of opposites attract is. However, rather than it be a story about two families on a college tour which has the kids fall in love, it is the parents. Edith and George seems to be in unhappy relationships with their spouses, add on their kids leaving, and you realize that perhaps the one thing keeping them in their marriage is leaving and perhaps they are realizing that with the kid gone, they are stuck with this person who may no longer love them or who they may no longer love. But, it doesn't get that deep until about mid-film. Before that, Edith's character is an embarrassment, but not in a too over the top fashion, and George is just a bore. As things go on though, Edith and George pretty much steal the movie with them leaving their kids behind and having their own tour of Middleton. This leads to confessions, romance and the kids being left to their own devices which more so puts them in the shadows of Edith and George's story than allowing them to hold their own.
Now, one thing I must say is that this film is pleasantly silly. To explain my perception of pleasantly silly, take note of how Ellen Degeneres does comedy. It isn't offensive, but can be a tad bit mean spirited. This mostly comes from George and Edith, but others take part occasionally as well. Another thing worth noting is that the first 45 minutes of the movie are pretty much the best part of the film. It feels like it had a smooth progression from a silly little film to getting to deeper matters that Edith and George were having which explained why their characters were the way they were.
But, while the film did well in handling George and Edith, it dropped the ball on Conrad and Audrey. The first half of the movie, pretty much, is dedicated to the parents and then the kids begin to get a stronger focus in the second half. The issue is, in comparison to their parents, only Conrad is really likable. Taissa, on the other hand, gets a little too over dramatic, and admittedly Vera has one scene in which she seems to need to be reign in a little bit as well, but Taissa's Audrey has a bad mix of snarkiness, Edith's Type A personality traits, but lacks the charm which keeps her from becoming an annoyance. So, if anything, it maybe more so the character than Taissa's acting, but I'm sort of iffy on giving her a pass. Also, after the first half, George and Edith begin to falter, character-wise, as you realize that her flirting and him following her around, is developing into something. Now, if they were both single that would be fine, but with them both mentioning spouses, it leads you to believe that the tour became, for them, an escape from the issues and responsibilities of adulthood. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I felt a bit disappointed since they had a bond because of their kids and marital troubles, so I didn't understand why they needed to fall for one another. It really made it seem, like in a lot of films, that men and women can't just be friends, but must explore and try other possibilities, even if briefly.
Overall: Rental or TV
Truth be told, no one should expect an award for their performance in the movie, but at the same time it isn't like this film feels like something to keep your name out there or will become something anyone involved will be mocked for. It is just an average movie that wants to entertain you with a decent story. Vera, I feel, with her flair for dramatics and the silliness of her character, leads us through this movie and does so well. Andy plays a good opposite to her and really, if you take the kids out of the movie and take away one scene of them, Edith and George smoking weed together, you got a really good film about parents dealing with their kids growing up. But, with Tasissa's and Spencer's character getting more screen time, which seems weakly written in comparison, it does bring the film down a bit to the point where you sort of wish after the 50 minute mark they cut everything up until the fun for Edith and George has to end for they have to go back to their children and their lives. Still, overall it is worth watching despite my criticisms.
What I have noticed is that a movie such as this, isn't just the acting though. The writing and directing of this film are also done very well. It was a complete joy to for me to watch.
Bottom Line: If you enjoy well Written Dialog; A film that is very well Acted and Directed, with some Romance. You'll love this movie.
"At Middleton" is slight and can't escape the clichés it eventually writes itself into. It also borrows too heavily from Richard Linklater's romances and saddles Farmiga with another cheap Manic Pixie Dream Girl role. On the flip side, both Garcia and Farmiga are endearing, the film bounces well, is funny, and treats us to some gorgeous Washington State scenery, in which sunlit campuses welcome dreamy hearts into their hallowed halls.
7.5/10 - See "The Paper Chase", Minneli's "The Clock", "Liberal Arts", "You Can Count on Me" (2000), "Home for the Holidays", "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and "Away from Her".