Saturday movie review: 'At Middleton'

Many readers know I have a, well, history with the romantic comedy AT MIDDLETON, starring Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. I first saw the film at the AARP Life@50 Conference in Atlanta in October and afterward had the unexpected and delightful opportunity to meet — and hug! — Andy Garcia. The memorable moment was a fantastic closing to my AT MIDDLETON experience.

Quotes from AT MIDDLETONOr so I thought. Turns out that was just the beginning.

Through an interesting turn of events, I ended up covering the red carpet screening of AT MIDDLETON at the Starz Denver Film Festival in November. I photographed and spoke to not only Andy Garcia, but also director Adam Rodgers with his co-writer Glenn German, Spencer Lofranco who plays Andy Garcia's son in the film and Stephen Borrello, who also stars.

Incredible, surreal moments, for sure, in both Atlanta and Denver. None of that, though, is the reason I love AT MIDDLETON. No, it's the charming, uplifting film on its own that has forever endeared itself to me, regardless of my incredible brushes with those instrumental in its making.

At Middleton theatrical poster

The official AT MIDDLETON synopsis goes like this:

"Academy Award nominees Andy Garcia (Ocean's 11, City Island) and Vera Farmiga (A&E's 'Bates Motel,' Up in the Air) star as straight-laced George and eccentric Edith, two strangers who meet on their children's campus tour at the idyllic Middleton College. Failing comically to connect with their kids, George and Edith play hooky together, ditching the official tour for a carefree adventure reminiscent of their own college years. But what begins as an afternoon of fun soon becomes a revealing and enlightening experience that will change their lives forever. A light-hearted romance for adults on the surface, At Middleton is a deeply moving portrait of roads not taken and the timelessness of youth.

Taissa Farmiga ('American Horror Story'), Spencer Lofranco (Jamesy Boy), Peter Riegert ('Dads'), and Tom Skerritt ('Picket Fences') also star in this story about what can happen on your first day of college — no matter who you are — At Middleton."

My thoughts on AT MIDDLETON:

Rarely does a film so accurately depict the struggles of parents letting go or couples coming to terms with an empty nest without the movie devolving into a dark, depressing spot. AT MIDDLETON shows genuine understanding of how scary it is for parents to send a kid out the door and off to college. One's heart goes through the wringer wrestling with all that might happen to the child while also realizing Mom and Dad now have only one another — without the buffer children at home provide.

Yet AT MIDDLETON doesn't depress, it uplifts. Those potentially depressing facts of life are perfectly counterbalanced with humor and heart, creating a charming story that celebrates change, hope and new phases. It highlights the delight in discoveries that can result in serendiptious, life-changing moments — if only we embrace them. As the movie tagline says, "One day can change everything."

What I loved most about the film: Mostly, I loved the writing. As I said, the screenplay co-written by Adam Rodgers and Glenn German rang true and heartfelt, not depressing yet not over-the-top sappy and pukingly precious as such a premise could be.

The chemistry between the Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga can't be beat. Their George and Edith connect as parents traversing the same road to an empty nest albeit with very different approaches. Once they become potential odd-couple partners they do far more than simply connect, they shine. They shine in the dramatic moments of revealing hard but heartfelt truths about the loneliness of marriage and parenthood, whether in words or actions, and, most of all, in uplifting moments of just plain delighting in one another's company.

The setting — filmed at Washington State University and Gonzaga University in eastern Washington — was absolutely charming, the music perfectly fitting, the directing by Rodgers truly top-notch. Honestly, I found nothing to complain about with the uplifting AT MIDDLETON. I left the theater — after both viewings — with a warm fuzzy in my heart and a smile on my face.

AT MIDDLETON (rated R for drug use and brief sexuality) opens in theaters and On-Demand January 31, 2014. Keep up with details on the film on Twitter and Facebook.



At Middleton grandmother quotes

What role did your grandmother(s) play in encouraging and influencing your creativity as a child and your pursuit of a career in the arts?

Adam Rodgers (director/co-writer):
Adam RodgersLike virtually everyone in my family, my maternal grandmother — Dorothy Ellison, whom we call "Nanny" — was supportive of my movie-making dreams and career. She knew her grandson's heart, and went with it. And although she would probably not claim it out of humility, she contributed to my creativity in two ways. As I child, I loved being around her because her joyful spirit was infectious, as was her wicked sense of humor. When we slept over at her house as kids, she was the one who stayed up way too late with me watching classic comedies and (for the time) cutting-edge television. We watched the first episode of SNL in 1975 on Barcaloungers in her living room, trying to suppress our howls lest we wake up Pop-Pop.  As I got older, I came to realize what a character she was, full of complexity, and what a remarkable life she had lived — so much so, that my thesis film at NYU was based loosely on an adventure we had together years before. Since that short film essentially got my career started, I owe her not just a creative debt of gratitude, but a professional one as well.


Spencer LofrancoSpencer Lofranco (Conrad): My grandmother on my dad's side passed away when I was young. All I can remember is that she was in a wheel chair after having a stroke and she could not speak. I was always scared of her, but I've been told that my grandmother was incredibly strong — even at her weakest points. I was blessed with her influence and support to act passionately and relentlessly.



Andy Garcia (George): Andy GarciaI had the great privilege to have their unconditional love and support — that was all I needed.








What does — or what might — either of your grandmothers think of AT MIDDLETON and your role in its making?

Adam Rodgers: Grandma Mary, on my dad's side, died when I was in grade school, but I'd like to think she would have enjoyed seeing the movie, as the college tour I took with my dad served as the initial inspiration.  As for Nanny, who turned 93 this year, she plans to see "At Middleton" on the big screen on opening night (January 31st).  Fortunately, we're playing at a theatre just two miles up Reisterstown Road from her place.


Spencer Lofranco: My grandmother on my mother's side of the family is still alive and she loves the arts.  Her husband runs the art department at a college in Barrie, Ontario.  She is very impressed with me - and my role in the film.


Andy Garcia: Unfortunately they have passed.


—From email Q&As with the celebrities