At Middleton is a film that is tailored to a very specific type of audience member. Anyone who has read the above synopsis or seen the trailer and really wanted to see the movie can probably check out of this review right now. As a film critic, my job is to assess the film on what's going on beneath the surface (if anything is), and of course I have my biases and opinions as well. The sum total of this is that the following review may end up sounding condescending, but that's not the intent. I admit, I wish viewers of films and television would be more discerning (mainly because I think films that please the general audience and the critics are honestly not that rare), but I don't begrudge an audience member who likes a film like At Middleton. That said, the film aims to walk two lines, and unfortunately, it ends up on the wrong side of both of them.
First of all, At Middleton wants to be a film "for grown-ups." Modern movies are notorious for forgetting anyone over 35 (and really, those last four years are kinda touch-and-go), but director / co-writer Adam Rodgers and co-writer Glen Germann have mistaken "for parents" for "for grown-ups." Edith's comment about how Audrey is inseparable from her phone is meant to be a big laugh line, as is Conrad's insistence that George not say "tight." They bond over their insecurities about seeing their kids leave the nest, with an added layer of "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" syndrome in Edith's insistent free-spirit nature (although the cliche is softened in that George's stodginess is mostly just a personality flaw rather than a serious conflict). Sure enough, the kids' dialogue is a bit "uncanny valley", more of a parent's memory of teenagers than actual teenagers.
Middleton's bigger flaw, though, is that it is less charming than it is pleasant. George has a fear of heights, which reveals itself when Edith drags him to the top of a bell tower. The pair "borrow" a set of bicycles for quicker transport around campus, then have to hide from a pair of campus cops looking for them. Later, they crash an improv class, of course, are forced to take part, of course, and they reveal more about themselves through their improv than they could ever have expected, of course. The low point comes when they end up in a dorm room and get high with a pair of students (Daniella Garcia-Lorido and Stephen Borrello IV), George for the first time in his life. These are all inoffensive little episodes (the film's R-rating is baffling) that play into the audience's expectations -- not without skill, but not much nuance.
Garcia and Farmiga make for a good team, creating chemistry almost out of thin air. There's no denying the desire to see this mismatched pair together, even as the film aggressively trumpets their mismatched chemistry to the point that it almost grates. They bring their A-game to the drama club scene despite all the contrivances required to get there. The film also features a strong supporting role for Tom Skerritt as a professor Audrey has her eye on, helping to sell one of the film's few harsh lessons (Peter Reigert also appears, but his character's purpose is far more conventional). As the film draws to a close, At Middleton shows an impressive bit of dramatic restraint, but even that doesn't dig at anything deeper. For a film about introspection and self-discovery, the film's pleasures are very surface-level.
The Video and Audio
The disc opens with trailers for Enough Said (a much funnier comedy "for grown-ups" about kids leaving for college), Small Time, City Island, Jayne Mansfield's Car, and Snake and Mongoose. No trailer for At Middleton has been included.