When he was still in high school, Adam Rodgers went on one of those college tours with his dad. At about the eighth university on the trip, Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., he and a girl on the tour got separated from the group, and "played tour hooky for about an hour."
She was spontaneous and free spirited, and the memory lingered as he went to NYU film school and then moved to L.A., where he and writing partner Glenn German started pitching scripts. One of them became the gentle comedy "Middleton," starring Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia, the Maui Film Festival's Celestial Cinema showpiece at 8 p.m. Saturday, following Taste of Wailea and the Nova Award tribute to actress Jessica Chastain.
"My 6-year-old said, 'Daddy, what kind of film is this? Is it a happy film or a sad film?' " said the director/co-writer during a recent phone interview. "And I said, 'Well, it's a little bit of everything.' "
Andy Garcia (left) and Vera Farmiga star in “Middleton.”
Photo courtesy Maui Film Festival
Now that he's a dad, with his oldest daughter graduating from high school this week, Rodgers changed the story a bit. This time it's the parents who spend the day getting lost from the tour, but getting acquainted with each other . . . and themselves. It's complicated since they're married to other people.
It gives its stars the opportunity to reveal comic, sometimes goofy, gifts under their more usual dramatic screen personas.
Garcia, "who fell in love with the script" and became one of the producers, plays a cardiac surgeon, tightly wound, right down to his bow tie. Between the wardrobe and round glasses inspired by silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd, he creates the kind of vulnerability that his more typical screen roles would eat for breakfast.
Farmiga, best known for her Oscar-nominated "Up in the Air" and Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning "The Departed," got to be free spirited and funny this time.
Rodgers knew her for her "fundamentally dramatic roles - but it looked like she had a wicked sense of humor."
She turned out to be "charming, joyful - and a bit of a goofball."
Her daughter is played by Taissa Farmiga, who isn't really her daughter, but her sister, born 21 years after Vera. That connection gave the actresses "a kind of shorthand," that worked into the flow of letting the actors improvise and enhance the script.
"The whole movie has to feel like it's happening in one day, so it has to feel spontaneous," said Rodgers.
With its collegiate backdrop, "Middleton" taps into that sense of giddy excitement of young infatuation - for the not-so-young.
"I think a lot of people have experiences like this, maybe standing in line at the grocery store, and there's a connection of some sort, that's beyond explanation. This story just sort of takes it where you hope it might go, but oftentimes it doesn't."
A happy ending? Well, that's open for discussion.
"It's open to interpretation for the audience. They maybe transfer some of their own feelings about their own relationships to it. We've had some people come out of the movie feeling rejuvenated and uplifted and others walk out of the movie looking a little somber."
For Rodgers, "It stays afloat largely on charm. It's a joyful film - the kind of film the studios used to make, 25 or 30 years ago."
"Middleton" was picked up by the Seattle International Film Festival and "Barry (Rivers) was very gracious in Maui." Rodgers says he looks at the images of the Celestial Cinema every day on the Maui Film Festival website - "It's awesome in the true meaning of the word. We're humbled and grateful to have that opportunity."
The Maui Film Festival continues through Sunday at Wailea Resort and Maui Arts & Cultural Center. For details, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org