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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

At Middleton 2013: See This Little Charmer

I stumbled across the DVD of "At Middleton" on a library shelf. "At Middleton" is a 2013 romantic comedy starring Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. Romantic comedies are my genre of choice and I'm a fan of both stars, yet I had never heard of this movie. I realized that "At Middleton" must be unknown either because it is very bad or really good. I laughed, I cried, and I came to care deeply about the main characters. It's a shame that "At Middleton" is not better known. If you are sick of comic book movies full of explosions, special effects, and superheroes, if you are open to a subtle, sentimental, quirky little movie that combines playful frivolity with surprising depth, give "At Middleton" a try.

Andy Garcia stars as George Hartman, a cardiac surgeon. His son Conrad (Spencer LoFranco) is considering Middleton College. Vera Farmiga is Edith Martin, a businesswoman. Her daughter Audrey (played by Farmiga's sister Taissa) is dead set on enrolling at Middleton and studying under her hero, linguist Roland Emerson (Tom Skerritt). The Hartmans and the Martins arrive simultaneously for a campus tour. The parents become separated from the children and several adventures begin. The middle-aged – thus at MIDDLEton – parents improvise one comic / tragic / romantic / poignant campus-related adventure after another. The kids go off on their own quests. It's almost like a Marx Brothers movie in parts – how many laughs can you milk from a campus setting – and like a sappy French movie in other parts.

Vera Farmiga is a great actress and if you've never seen her in anything else you'll understand why she has fervent fans from her performance here. Her face is a freaking lighthouse pulsing out joy, agony, lust, rebellion, and desolation. How she looks after George walks away from her to attend a meeting with his son, and how she looks when her daughter is driving the car: see the movie for those moments alone. Andy Garcia completely disappears into the character of George. There is a scene where he asks, "When did you stop loving me?" that went right through me. I wanted to reach into the screen and comfort George.

Spencer LoFranco and Taissa Farmiga have their own life-changing encounters. The scene between Audrey and her scholar hero is painful and painfully accurate. Peter Riegert pops up as a campus disc jockey to mentor Conrad.

"At Middleton" is not a great movie. Its very low budget shows, as does the director's relative lack of experience. George, as the uptight stick in the mud, and Edith, as a madcap catalyst for emotional breakthroughs, are characters we've seen before, in many a romantic comedy, from "Bringing Up Baby" to "What's Up Doc?" There are no breathtaking shots or memorable uses of lighting. I came to care so much about the two main characters that toward the end I began to feel that the film was not honoring them or their journey enough – the script could use just a few tweaks to raise it from very good to great level. These are relatively minor quibbles, though.

There is so much drek out there. This movie deserves so many more viewers than it got. The ending of the film is one that many viewers will want to tinker with. Fan fiction exists for this reason – if you want "Gone with the Wind" not to end with Rhett walking out on Scarlett, you can read fan fiction that changes that ending. I would love to see what fan fiction would do with George and Edith. For that reason, we need more people to see this charming little movie.