At Middleton (2013)

Colleges aren’t just for prospective students. Some go to escape their rule-filled worlds, while other’s go to get away from people. Some people go back to relive the experience and rekindle their once selves. No matter the reason for going, college is a magical place that can change you. It seems like anything can happen there and that nothing else matters outside of the campus. However, you can’t live their forever and the adventure does have to end at some point.

Everyone is eager for the tour to start.
Everyone is eager for the tour to start.

Middleton College is a place for opportunity and it’s small enough to give you a true college experience. Audrey Martin (Taissa Farmiga) has been waiting for Middleton since she was young. She and her mother, Edith (Vera Farmiga), are set to tour the school before she attends it. Also joining the tour that day, is Conrad Hartman (Spencer Lofranco) and his father, George (Andy Gracia). While the two pairs butt heads at first, things calm down when Conrad and Edith wander off on their own. They share stories and reminisce about their own college experiences.

While Audrey is super stoked to be touring her dream school, Conrad is less than thrilled to be at this school he has no interest in. As their tour continues, their parents continue their own private tour and learn more about one another. They open up about their problematic life’s and comfort one another when they need to. Over the course of the day, they find love and Middleton works its magic on them. Edith breaks Conrad out of his shell and starts to get him to have fun and let loose. As for their kids, they have their own unique experiences that make their college decisions much clearer.

Conrad and Edith take bikes and tour the campus.
Conrad and Edith take bikes and tour the campus.

At Middleton brings you back or thrusts you forward into the time of college tours and finding the place that’s right for you and does something interesting with that familiar concept. Rather than focusing on the potential students and their time spent there, you get a parental stance on college tours and the feeling of sending your children off for good. Of course, love plays a hand in the film and it comes in the most peculiar of places. With interesting characters and even more interesting relationships, this film connects and disconnects with you with no sign of which is to come.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Vera Farmiga and I think that she brings a lot of fun and personality to this film. She’s clearly upset with her home life and often feels oppressed, so when she gets out into the open, she has fun and makes quick decisions. Her greatest scene comes when she walks into a drama class and has to “improv” a marital breakup. She hits every emotion that you can think of and she does so with grace and hilarity. She’s a worried mother who is losing the only person that she loves and her attitude towards college is reflective of many parents who aren’t ready to let go of their kids. She really makes it a point to connect with the audience and she’s simply wonderful.

Conrad and Edith are reliving the college experience to the fullest.
Conrad and Edith are reliving the college experience to the fullest.

Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s younger sister, plays one drastic example of a kid going of to school. On the other hand, Spencer Lofranco plays the opposite of her. Lofranco isn’t given too much to work with, but he makes use of his reluctance to going to a school where his father wants him to. He has no interest in Middleton, but upon finding out more about it and what it has to offer, he slowly changes his mind and warms up to the idea of going there. Myself and many other seniors have been through similar events. Taissa is more of a hyperbolic character, but I know many people obsessed with going to one school and they can’t think of anything else. Her determination and resilience is astounding and she really encompasses those types of people.

The only performance that I wasn’t overly fond of came from Garcia, who was a really uninspiring character. He’s the most boring person in the film and it’s unbelievable that anyone as fun-loving as Vera Farmiga would fall for him. He mutters most of his lines and he looks so bored when he recites his lines. Everything comes off as flat and he doesn’t make you care for him. He’s hesitant to try anything and anyone would have given up on him in a matter of minutes. He does have one great moment when he improvises his marital breakup, but other than that he’s leech to Farmiga’s lovely spirit.

One last embrace...
One last embrace…

The college aspect of this film is kept brief and the two leads only walk around to a few special places. You get the sense that they’ll relive their college experience and find love as they look back on their lives, but they don’t touch on the school as much as you’d like. Whereas Liberal Arts gave you a sense of what was so romantic about college life and how people can meet there, At Middleton forces two unlikely characters together by taking them to a few spots and by setting up certain scenarios. The campus at which they filmed is beautiful and there are many places that would work better to create love, but the film doesn’t capitalize on those opportunities and settles for less.

At Middleton has enough good performances to save itself, but it still fails to utilize the campus as a character of its own. The love in the film doesn’t feel realistic and it hardly ever seems like Garcia is interested in Farmiga. He’ll be the reason that you’re taken out of the film for a bit, but Farmiga and her charm will bring you right back. It’s fun watching the Farmiga sisters portray a mother and daughter and that bond really helps them seem like a real mother-daughter duo. There’s a lot of truth to the college experience here, I just wish that it had been used in a better fashion. This film isn’t a total misfire, but it needs some work when it comes to its believability and its lead actor.

At Middleton Trailer

3 STARS!!!

3 / 5 stars     

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