An innocuous midlife romantic comedy set over the course of a few hours, “At Middleton” Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga as two parents brought together as they tour a prospective college campus with their respective 18-year-olds. Naturally, opposites attract (within both generations), and little life lessons are learned. Helmer/co-writer Adam Rodgers’ debut feature is a painless enough diversion, but novel ideas and humor beyond mild chuckles are in scant supply. With capable but medium-wattage stars trying too hard to float thin material on charm alone, the pic seems likely to bypass theaters for OK prospects as a rental and cable item.
We first meet the leads as they drive to the titular institution of higher education, revealing dysfunctional parent-child relationships en route. Heart surgeon George (Garcia) is a persnickety sort exasperated by the casual attitude of his genial-jock son, Conrad (Spencer LoFranco), toward his academic and professional future. On the other hand, children’s retailer Edith (Vera Farmiga) embarrasses her driven, humorless, too-mature-for-her-years daughter, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga, a ringer for her older sister), by being the kind of free spirit whose grating qualities the movies typically mistake for adorability.
Breaking off from the canned official tour, the initially adversarial adults quickly discover a spark between them, even if it never comes off as more than standard narrative contrivance. Their wacky adventures include crashing an acting class and the inevitable getting-stoned-with-youngsters interlude. Meanwhile, their thrown-together kids achieve a tenuous bond from which one learns she needs to lighten up and he needs to apply himself. Peter Riegert and Tom Skerritt have single scenes as faculty members who help them arrive at those conclusions.
Though the bittersweet conclusion somewhat bucks formula, it’s hard to care about the leads’ pangs of romantic interest, since we know absolutely nothing about their married home lives or whatever fulfillment is lacking there. The most attractive element in a polished if modest technical package is Emmanuel Kadosh’s sunlit photography, which makes the fictive Middleton (actually a blend of two Washington state campus locations) look like a very pleasant place indeed to spend four formative years. Given the mild content, the pic’s R rating is a bit puzzling.