MRR Review: "At Middleton"

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A man and a woman fall in love while taking their kids on a college admissions tour.
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Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: January 31, 2014
Directed by: Adam Rogers
Genre: Romantic Comedy / Drama

Anchor Bay Films' "At Middleton" is the story of a successful businesswoman visiting an idyllic college in the Pacific Northwest with her daughter, while a heart surgeon accompanies his son on the same tour. Though a college-bound student is all the two have in common, they soon form a powerful and unexpected connection. "At Middleton" is directed by Adam Rogers and was written by Rogers and Glenn German. The film was first introduced at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2013 and made its big screen debut on January 31, 2014. Since showings are limited geographically, you may have to wait for the on-demand or DVD release.

Both confident and free-spirited, Edith Martin (Vera Farmiga) and her overachieving daughter Audrey (Taissa Farmiga) arrive at Middleton College for a tour of the prospective school. Likewise, George (Andy Garcia) joins his happy-go-lucky son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) to visit the scenic campus.

Edith is unconventional and mouthy, while George is an uptight bow tie-donning square who is unwilling to take risks. Not surprisingly, they dislike each other from the start. Edith pesters the serious tour guide with questions about the on-campus murder and rape rates, much to the chagrin of the guide and other visitors. Differences aside, it is not long before they are both just too willing to separate themselves from the rest of the pack for their own college tour.

What initially appears to viewers as another "college" movie centered around two young people turns out to be nothing of the sort, with Audrey and Conrad taking the backstage to their parents' roles. However, the actions of Edith and George do mirror those of adolescents away from home for the first time.

Their differences in character are evident throughout their journey. When they encounter two abandoned bicycles along their way, Edith suggests that they "borrow" them, giddily proclaiming "This is fate," with George countering "This is theft." Other adventures of the duo include a disturbance at the library, a climb to the top of a bell tower (made better by George's fear of heights), a flirtatious duet on a piano, a drama class disruption and getting stoned with a pre-med student and his girlfriend. Adding to their differences is a huge one in age; the actor Garcia is 57, while Farmiga is 40. While this is never explicitly revealed in the movie, a disparity is quite evident.

The personal lives of Edith and George are not immediately known, leaving many viewers to wonder about their individual relationship status. Even after it is revealed that they are both married, maybe unhappily, few details are disclosed regarding the true state of their lives at home. What is certain is that the connection they do form is nothing short of deep.

While it is a "C-rated" effort by the accounts of many critics, the movie does have appeal, especially to the middle-aged that have sent a son or daughter away to school, have experienced a mid-life crisis or both. The lesson that "polar opposites attract" is played quite well by director Adam Rogers, a virtual unknown recognized mostly for his work in short films prior to the release of "At Middleton."

The presence of big-name actors does not hurt. Farmiga played in "Up In the Air" and "The Conjuring," and Garcia had prominent roles in "The Untouchables," "When A Man Loves A Woman," "Ocean's Eleven" and its sequels. Interestingly, both jump-started their careers in gangster dramas; Farminga starred in "The Departed," while Garcia played in "The Godfather Part III." Though she plays her daughter in "At Middleton," Taissa is Vera's real-life sister, though she is 21 years her junior. Garcia, who is generally casts in more serious roles, shows his gift for comedy previously displayed in "City Island."

Middleton College is fictional. The movie is actually filmed in the state of Washington at Spokane's Gonzaga University and Washington State University in Pullman, so there is appeal to Bulldog and Cougar students and alumni.

A film that is both funny and charming, "At Middleton" brings together comedy and romance in the form of a very unlikely match. Rather than a pair of entitled adolescents deciding which school of higher education to attend, the film focuses on two middle-aged adults at a crossroads in their lives who come together to form a deep connection. It serves as a reminder to both young and old viewers that the most passionate feelings are not always felt during adolescence, and it provides an interesting contrast to more conventional college movies.

Rating: 3 out of 5