Monday, February 3, 2014

At Middleton, Love is in the Air

Love is in the Air
At Middleton

If you'd told me I'd see two romantic comedies in one day and that the one starring Ludivine Sagnier (on the strength of "Love Crime," perhaps the worst actress working today) would be less cringe-worthy than the one starring Vera Farmiga (one of the best), I'd have taken that bet for any amount of money.

In "At Middleton," Farmiga plays "high end children's furniture saleswoman" (movie job) Edith opposite cardiac surgeon George (Andy Garcia, giggle). They're at fictional Middleton College to take the campus tour with their kids, respectively the precocious would-be linguist Audrey (Vera's much younger sister Taissa) and the dim-looking Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), whom George stuffs into a dress shirt and tie. Most of the movie involves Edith and George disconnecting from the tour and engaging in so many random acts of manufactured whimsy - pilfering arbitrarily unlocked bicycles, climbing the bell tower, performing an improvised dramatic scene before an acting class (do the students applaud? Does the teacher applaud?!), taking bong hits in a dorm room - I stopped keeping count. Every line of dialogue in "At Middleton" is false to its core, from the tour guide's overwritten shtick to Audrey's lunch with her linguistics guru (Tom Skerritt), which careens from hero worship to vituperation like a car off its axle. It's painful to watch an actress as gifted as Vera Farmiga give her all to such unworthy, artificial material.

Meanwhile, I was disappointed, if anything, that "Love is in the Air" wasn't worse. Start with the premise: Julie (Sagnier) and her playboy ex Antoine (Nicolas Bedos) have been broken up for three years, yet find themselves seated next to each other for the six-hour flight from New York to Paris. They banter, they quarrel - and, in a moment of turbulence-induced clarity, they confess their ongoing love. But he's hurt her so many times before, and oh yeah, she's about to marry a comfortable-old-shoe tax lawyer (is there any other kind in the movies?) on Saturday. Meanwhile, they place Airphone calls - he to his sad-sack bestie Hugo (Jonathan Cohen), she to her deliciously man-hating mom (Brigitte Catillon) - and get unsolicited advice from their oh-so-French fellow passengers. 

Add Sagnier and you have the potential for a camp classic like "Love Crime," a movie so bad it's fun. Instead, there are just a few laughs here, courtesy of Catillon and Antoine's prodigious womanizing. (At a random bar, Bedos asks the waitress by name for the tab. Cohen looks at him questioningly. "It was a long time ago.") But the biggest laugh still comes when director Alexandre Castagnetti makes Julie say she's smart. That's a word Sagnier couldn't pull off on any continent.

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