Critic’s Pick: ‘At Middleton’

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Thelma Adams
·Writer
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At Middleton
At Middleton

Uptight George (Andy Garcia) escorts his son, Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), on a college tour. Meanwhile, free-spirited Edith (Vera Farmiga) takes her daughter Audrey (played by her talented real-life sister Taissa Farmiga) to check out the same (fictional) college, Middleton.

The college visit – detailed on countless academic websites -- is a day trip fraught with tension and expectations played out by parents and children across America. In Adam Rodgers' comedy "At Middleton," co-written with Glenn German, unexpected love blossoms between the parental units in a single day on a verdant campus.

Full confession: I've spent the last year chaperoning my son to colleges and I never once fantasized about another parent. Eek! But our trips together put me in that small group of parents coping with the bittersweet realization that their college days are decades in the past, and it's time to step aside and let their children dive into those defining four (or five or six) years of college – and make their own mistakes.

Humorous and touching "At Middleton" refreshingly focuses on the parents. George and Edith step on campus full of emotions about their own lives, about the hopes they had when they went off to college themselves, the choices they made and the places they expected to be at this point in their lives. And, to the extent that they acknowledge their feelings, or try to deny them, it opens them up to each other. Because even though their kids are leaving the nest, it doesn't mean that life – or romantic love – ends for the fathers and mothers.

Farmiga, of TV's hugely successful "Bates Motel," generally considered more of a dramatic than a comedic actress, turns in her funniest performance since "Up in the Air." Whether she's auditing an acting class, or telling off another parent on the tour (something I've wanted to do but bit my tongue), or probing under George's emotional armor, she gets laughs but never strays from being a real, flawed, relatable character. She is a beautiful actress that begs to have a screwball comedy written for her.

[Related: 'At Middleton': Vera Farmiga on Edith]

Opposite Farmiga, Garcia aces his chemistry exam. Sparks fly. And, since Garcia begins as the buttoned-up, bespectacled, blazer-wearing dad-in-a-rut, when George cuts loose, it's a thing of beauty. A scene where George and Edith improv playing husband and wife in an acting workshop is deeply moving, and a moment where they share a park bench and imagine the lives of the college students strolling by shows in sweet shorthand the couple that they could possibly become.

Whether the kids attend Middleton or not becomes beside the point: Do George and Edith end up together? Let's just leave it at: What a difference a day makes.

Bottom Line: A rom-com for grown-ups