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'At Middleton' review: Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga 'find themselves' at college

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In the very likable hands of actors Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, it’s hard not to award some extra credit for the duo’s charming performances in “At Middleton.” Co-written by Adam Rodgers and Glenn German and directed by Rodgers, “At Middleton” follows George Hartman (Garcia) and Edith Martin (Farmiga) as they each escort their teens on a college tour, and soon find themselves on an excursion of their own.

Starting in a “meet cute” battle over a parking spot (“Of course the guy who wears a bowtie would back into a parking space”), Edith and George butt heads almost at once. While George’s son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) laughs at Edith’s wisecracks; Edith’s daughter Audrey (Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s real-life younger sister) is much more alarmed that her mom is not taking Audrey’s first college experience more seriously.

Edith is certainly a free spirit, yet works her passive aggressive manner into her relationship with her daughter. Of course Edith wants her studious daughter to have freedom, but seemingly she also doesn’t want her child to leave the nest.

George, on the other hand, is an ordered (i.e., uptight) heart surgeon, who likely never had time for Conrad and is hoping to quickly spend some quality time with his son before Conrad takes off. Of course in opposing ways, their parental smothering leads each kid to chafe at their bits, and soon the parents are wandering around, off tour, but finding adventures together.

Exploring the beautiful, fictional Middleton campus (the film was shot at Gonzaga College in Spokane and Washington State University in Pullman), the parents sneak into classes and give troubled students (including Garcia's real life daughter, Daniella Garcia-Lorido) bits of “cool adult” wisdom. But it takes Edith and George's connection together to think about their own lives, including the ups and downs they’ve experienced since their own college days.

Likewise, Conrad and Audrey have parallel foibles as they search for what college life might be like for each of them after this tour. However, their plights, especially Audrey’s obsession in stalking her linguistic professor (Tom Skerritt) seem almost an afterthought in terms of script, although not performances – Taissa and Lofranco deliver handsomely.

But here’s the thing about “At Middleton” – it’s a nice diversion. The story is light and full of charm with just the right amount amusing notes, especially with George and Edith re-discovering college life, each other, and themselves. The locales too are lovely, and the score by Jazz composer Arturo Sandoval goes down easy.

Just as George and Edith leave the tour, viewers could do worse than ditching their routine life for a couple of hours to hang out with George and Edith. Plus, Valentine's Day is coming - this might just be the right date movie for Valentine's Day adults.

“At Middleton” is 99 minutes, Rated R (for drug use and brief sexuality) and opens January 31 in Los Angeles at Sundance Sunset Cinemas and in Pasadena at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 Cinemas.


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