A College film for adults, At Middleton is about the complexities of post-graduate life. Though far too heavy handed to be a great film, its performances and sentimental script elevate it above simple mush. It’s sweet and touching, and altogether enjoyable.
Two parents are escorting their children to Middleton College for a campus tour. Edith Martin (Vera Farmiga) is the verbose and cautious mother of Audrey (Taissa Farmiga), a teen obsessed with language and glued to her phone. George Hartman (Andy Garcia) is the ironically named Cardiologist father of Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), a presumably aimless teen who never seems to appreciate George’s efforts. As their tour begins, Edith’s peculiar trepidation becomes palpable, both intriguing and annoying George. As her questions stray into the mortifyingly morose, Edith and George separate from the group to give their kids the embarrassment-free tour they’ve been aching for.
As Edith and George wander the campus, they gradually begin to relive their own College days. A tangible sense of nostalgia penetrates their experience of the campus, suggesting the missed opportunities and regrets that stem from hesitation and poor judgment.
At Middleton is stock schmaltz with sporadic injections of character and chemistry that elevate it above vapid feel-good status. It’s cute and quaint in spite of its propensity for heavy handedness.
The Sisters Farmiga are in fine form as mother and daughter. Vera, as always, is a powerhouse. She has a knack for elevating even the simplest of content, and this is no exception. Taissa clearly benefits from working alongside her elder, seasoned sister. Where she was slightly affected in her performances on American Horror Story, here she adds a level of nuance to the high-strung, academic Audrey.
Though hardly believable as a physician of any kind, and a bit too forceful with his portrayal of a tight ass, highbrow father, Garcia is pleasant enough. His character lightens as the film progresses. As he loosens his bowtie, Garcia loosens the reins on his performance, as well. He relaxes into the part, becoming a more believable human being as the clichés of his character become less prevalent. In spite of being given a poorly written character, Garcia manages to inject some life into the part.
Lofranco is a treat as Conrad. For someone who looks like a vapid jock, both his character and his performance surprise. He effectively serves as the terse yet comforting voice of reason, and is easily the most well rounded individual in the film.
In many ways At Middleton feels like an ode to difficult people everywhere, and the impact of reality when your expectations don’t line up. It’s about missed opportunities and the promises of youth. When you think you have your life planned out, and suddenly your bubble bursts. Or you find yourself remembering your potential at a time when it seems to have all but run dry. It’s about broken hearts and broken dreams, and the debate over whether or not you can do it all over again. Whether or not you have the courage to move on, or if you’ve resigned yourself to the reality you’ve settled for. It manages to be both hopeful and hopeless. This little College film is more than it seems, even if only by a small margin.
At Middleton is now playing in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema.