For the free-spirited Edith (Vera Farmiga), the answer looks like it might be to hyperventilate. As she drives her uptight daughter Audrey (played by Farmiga’s much younger sister, Taissa) to the idyllic Middleton College for an admissions tour — intentionally missing the turn-off on the way — a look of anguish flashes across Edith’s face. But she manages to take her mind off her despair when she meets George (Andy Garcia, playing wonderfully against type), a walking bow tie of a man, who has dragged his son on the same tour.
Predictably, George and Edith butt heads, but they bond over one thing: their ability to embarrass their children. Ultimately, rather than making their kids suffer further indignities, the pair decide to go off on their own for the day, stealing bicycles and breaking into buildings, participating in theater exercises with a drama class, smoking pot with underclassmen and, of course, falling for each other.
There’s just one complication. Edith and George are both married.
“At Middleton” has its flaws. Edith’s eccentricities are obnoxiously over-the-top at the movie’s start, and George’s character seems similarly painted in broad brushstrokes. But as the movie unfolds and the pair become closer, the heavy-handedness begins to fall away. What’s left is a bittersweet look at how easily people forget what fun feels like when we fall into the routines of marriage and parenthood. -- S.M.
R. Contains drug use and brief sexuality. 99 minutes. Available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, DVD and Netflix.
THESE BIRDS WALK
More of an extended essay than a fully realized feature film, “These Birds Walk” invites viewers into the alternately heartbreaking and inspiring world of an orphanage in Karachi, Pakistan, where a saintly philanthropist named Abdul Sattar Edhi cares for children who have arrived on his doorstep either as infants or runaways.
With no narration or textual information, filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq take their camera into Edhi’s establishment, a modest home that doubles as an ambulance dispatch center — an apt combination in a country where, as the film suggests, young lives and dead bodies often seem to bear roughly equivalent value.
Following a few of Edhi’s young charges, they create an astonishingly candid portrait of the poverty, desolation, cruelty and compassion that shape young lives in modern-day Pakistan, here depicted as both a riot of color and life and a place of desperation and misery.
In no one are those competing values more poignantly embodied than Omar, a young boy of about 9 or 10 (no one knows his age for sure), who has fetched up at Edhi’s establishment and will remain there until his parents claim him (or not). Bright, active, something of a bully, Omar is best friends with the sensitive Shehr, who says he has escaped abusive parents, but whose face is often streaked with tears of homesickness.
Mullick and Tariq patiently train their lens on the boys of Edhi and keep it there, through their prayers (interrupted with occasional slaps to each other’s heads), reminiscences of home and roughhousing that inevitably blossoms into full-blown fighting.
“These Birds Walk” eventually follows a narrative arc — there’s an ending of sorts, but there’s no way of discerning whether it’s happy. In fact, viewers are left suspecting that it’s anything but.
Mullick and Tariq have created an observant, haunting glimpse of a society that’s often opaque to American viewers. And in Edhi, they’ve introduced us to a heroic figure who is quietly going about the work of human kindness, day in and day out, doing one man’s part to stem an insurmountable tide of despair. He may not be winning, but “These Birds Walk” honors his struggle. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains profanity and some upsetting images. 72 minutes. In Urdu with subtitles. Available on Tuesday on iTunes, Amazon Instant, on-demand cable, Google Play, Vudu, Xbox and Playstation.