At Middleton (2013) – Review

Two sisters in real life playing mother and daughter in this imaginary, albeit charming, one? How was that going to work then? I looked at the cast list, featuring both Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) and younger (twenty-one years younger, admittedly) sibling Taissa (American Horror Story) and needn’t have worried.
Joining these two is Andy Garcia, fresh from Open Road with Juliette Lewis. These three leads make up seventy-five percent of the interest for most of the audience, with relative newbie Spencer Lofranco completing the very pleasing quartet of featured players.The film takes in a visit to the fictional Middleton University, a beautiful school with buckets of character all on its own, with sprawling acreage, festooned with langourous landscaping to soothe the soul.And this collection of buildings and their grounds needs to be as idyllic as they are for this brief encounter to really pay off. Whilst the script and its players are delightful to witness, this simply wouldn’t have worked without such an elegant backdrop.

George (Garcia) and Edith (Vera Farmiga) are each bringing their children, students -to-be, to the University open day. George seems to be, at first glance, stuffy and reluctant to change, yet focused and efficient, insisting his son wears a tie he picked out especially for him for this very visit. He has a predilection for backing into car parking spaces and likes everything measured. His son Conrad (Lofranco), all white teeth and boyish good looks, is a completely different animal, however, and appears to be visiting Middleton not through his own volition, but through the demands and expectations of his ‘just so’ father.

On the flip side, Edith is gregarious, outspoken and opinionated. She is the epitome of what you might imagine a freedom chasing baby boomer would be when confronted with the dawning realisation, again, that she is reaching a time in her life when a new, unwanted,  landmark will come and go; losing her daughter to adulthood. Her daughter, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga) is much like George in many respects. She is focused, driven, tightly wound and pointed directly at her next challenge. As opposed to Conrad, she is the instigator of this open day visit, the only one that she has even bothered to go on, so certain is she that this is the university she is going to attend. Edith doesn’t get so much as a say in the matter.

Despite the title, At Middleton does not spend too long following the tour that has been provided for these potential new recruits. After a brief introduction over the best way to park a car, George and Edith surprisingly hit it off and then decide, rather against the advice probably dispensed in the Parenting 101 Handbook, to play hooky and spend the day together. Opposites attract it seems, and against George’s nature, which seems difficult to believe at first, the two of them go on their own tour. This involves ‘borrowing’ bicycles and taking part in a drama class, soaking up the relaxed outdoors and swapping stories about their very different lives, slowly but surely coming to appreciate the other, making inevitable emotional connections on this stolen day of freedom from both children and spouses.

Given that these two souls have met and a bond formed so quickly, it would be easy to suggest that the characters are unrealistic, even reprehensible. These two people have left their children on a day that is special to all of them, cast thoughtlessly aside in favour of larking about with a complete stranger on a very important day. What their respective husband and wife would make of this carry on would be anyone’s guess, but you can iimagine it wouldn’t be pretty and involve a pat on the back in regard to their behaviour.

But the writing is so good, the performances so valid and the romance so innocent that you cannot help but be drawn into this affair that never really happens. The romantics will dream of precious captured moments just like the ones witnessed here, suggesting that this is what life is all about, meeting and connecting with another soul. Nothing may come of it and often it doesn’t, but then again, it doesn’t have to. There may be a moment in your life past or yet to come where you too will unexpectedly meet someone that you have wondered about seemingly for all of your life. Chances are, that moment will come at an inconvenient time as you go about your day, but here, the story takes an opportunity to explore and revel in that moment, allowing the viewer to dream, if only for a short time, that there still are perfect days like this left for them too.

In summary, a lovely story, superbly delivered, with a script that enjoys it’s fair share of very funny moments. If you can get over the slightly contrived opening, you will be rewarded with a very satisfactory love story that has its finger directly on the pulse of what makes us human.

As George remarks quite without irony, “it’s a little slice of heaven”.





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