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'At Middleton' review: Romantic probation

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

12:00 AM CST, January 30, 2014

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*1/2 (out of four)

Destined to disappoint royal family followers and romantic comedy supporters, “At Middleton” has nothing to do with Duchess Kate or modern love.

Set at the titular, fictional college, the film imagines a “Before Sunrise”-ish walk-and-talk between Edith (Vera Farmiga) and George (Andy Garcia), who bring their kids for a visit. Farmiga’s younger sister, Taissa (“The Bling Ring”), plays Edith’s daughter, Audrey, who says things like, “Sometimes I push away people I like” and loves Middleton because of its renowned linguistics professor (Tom Skerritt). George’s son, Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), is more indie rock than classical and (fairly) resents Dad making him wear a tie.

With its accordion-enhanced score and a direct nod to 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “At Middleton” seeks a charming, European sense of whimsy and bittersweet confrontation of love’s obstacles. Yet the first feature from director/co-writer Adam Rodgers lands closer to “College Road Trip” and last year’s disappointing “Admission” than the beautiful longing in 2009’s worthwhile “Cairo Time.” In “Middleton,” everyone on the wee campus knows about the tour guide’s “dingleberry” joke, and multiple scenes involve Edith and George stumbling upon students getting it on.

That’s less painful than seeing Garcia, playing a heart surgeon whose last name is Hartman, moaning/giggling, “I am a cardiac surgeon” into a bong in the inevitable “parents doing drugs” scene. Also sad: the attempted lightness of these risque folks stealing students’ bikes and the contrived weight of them participating in a revealing theater class scene. Throughout, many strangers annoyingly banter as if they’ve been acquainted for years.

The elder Farmiga (“Bates Motel,” “Up in the Air”) almost redeems things; the character is weirder than most middle-aged women are allowed to be on screen, with anger around the edges where idealized attainability usually rests. Rodgers doesn’t know what to do with any of this, though, fashioning a movie about vague unhappiness of parents wanting to connect with their kids and then ditching them. The filmmaker ignores that with the teens heading off, maybe these two could make difficult but rewarding long-term changes.

Josh Radnor’s underrated “Liberal Arts” had a better sense of what graduates want to recapture when returning to campus, and what must be left behind. While college sometimes may be a forced lunge toward maturity, “At Middleton” shouldn't be. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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