Coming to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Tuesday, Jan. 21, as a new form of sneak preview, is “At Middleton,” an independent film about two parents who fall in love while visiting a college campus with their respective children. The screening of this not-yet-released film launches a state-of-the-art collaboration with the New York Film Critics Series that includes a live, on-screen introduction by Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers and interactive commentary with the director and two of the film’s actors.
The M.V. Film Center is one of 50 theaters nationwide that have begun participating in monthly screenings that allow audiences to discuss new films with their principals. “At Middleton” director Adam Rogers will participate on-screen in the Q&A following the film, along with actors Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. Mr. Travers and Alison Bailes of More Magazine, WOR Radio, and the Charlie Rose Show will moderate the discussion.
A romantic comedy, “At Middleton” starts with George, a cardiac surgeon played by Mr. Garcia, shepherding his reluctant son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) to Middleton College for the obligatory campus visit. Edith, played by Ms. Farmiga, arrives simultaneously with her serious-minded daughter Audrey, played by her younger sister Taissa Farmiga. Sparks fly from the parents’ first encounter, when Edith takes George’s parking spot. The straight-laced George and free-spirited Edith continue to spar as the student-led tour begins, and before long the two parents take off on their own, more or less abandoning their offspring and exploring a new relationship.
One escapade after another keeps the two trading quips. Together they explore the campus, filmed at Gonzaga and Washington State Universities, on “borrowed” bicycles, eventually landing in an acting class where the instructor enlists them in a revealing bit of gestalt dialogue. In an homage to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” George chases Edith up the rickety stairs of the college bell tower, even though he’s afraid of heights.
Yet another cinematic allusion in this literate film pops up when the two duck into a projection room where “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Jacques Demy’s classic romantic musical, is being screened. Before long, George and Edith are trying out illegal substances with the projectionist and her boyfriend. One madcap misadventure follows another, as the unexpected liaison deepens between the two parents. Forget about spouses, forget about offspring; George and Edith bond like two magnets. They just can’t get enough of each other.
Sprightly dialogue and accomplished acting keep “At Middleton” on track and entertaining. Mr. Garcia has built a solid reputation in roles as policemen or crooks, but as George he reveals a deft talent for jokes and clowning. Best known for her roles in “The Departed” and “Up in the Air,” Ms. Farmiga shines as the wise-cracking Edith who practically does cartwheels around a more serious-minded George. Despite all the narrative shenanigans this comedy depends on, “At Middleton” ends up on realistically solid and unexpected ground.
Opening this weekend at the M.V. Film Center is “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which plays in rotation with the much-touted Coen Brothers film about 60s folk music, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
“At Middleton,” Tuesday, Jan. 21, 8 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. Specially priced at $20; $18 M.V. Film Society members. For tickets and information, see mvfilmsociety.com.