Written by Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman
Directed by Stu Zicherman
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It’s not a particularly good sign that the end credits for A.C.O.D. are more revealing and poignant than the film preceding them. As the credits roll on one half of the screen, a montage of (presumably) the film’s crew members plays on the other half, as they identify as being either Adult Children of Divorce (hence the titular acronym) or not, defining when or if their parents split up, how, and why. Finally, the interviewees state whether or not they are or will ever get married, their parents’ fates clearly a deciding factor in the choice. Some of the A.C.O.D.’s have been married multiple times, some refuse to go to the altar, and others haven’t but are hopeful. In just under 5 minutes, we get a wide spectrum of humanity, in all its stubborn, feisty, fickle, and idealistic glory. If only A.C.O.D. was as honest or nonjudgmental.
Adam Scott plays Carter, one of many adult children of divorce, now a thriving restaurant owner supporting his goofy younger brother Trey (Clark Duke). When Trey announces he’s marrying his girlfriend of four months, he begs Carter to get their long-divorced parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins) to attend the ceremony without ripping each other to shreds. Concurrently, he discovers that the psychologist he saw after his parents split up (Jane Lynch) was actually a researcher collecting data for what became a worldwide bestseller about the effects of divorce on children. And wouldn’t you know, she wants to do a sequel focusing on the same subjects as adults. (Again, hence the title.) The two threads collide with each other as Carter struggles to keep himself together, dealing with both a wildly unprofessional author and his immature, obnoxious parents.
It’s not just that Lynch, O’Hara, and Jenkins all play varying levels of annoying here; that’s the point of their characters, but the point is also, apparently, that they can judge Carter for being a commitment-phobe to his longtime girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) without realizing any of their own flaws. Why on Earth would a person dealing with the fallout of such an acrimonious divorce react like that with their own personal relationships? The mind reels at the possibilities. Carter is, as expected, a damaged individual, but he’s far more of a capable adult than most of the ensemble; thus, the story deciding that only he needs to change as a person, even while all around him are far more screwed up, is a major, and vexing, stumble.
It’s less an issue of casting than of the script, by Ben Karlin and director Stu Zicherman. The ensemble is so talented that, even at its worst, A.C.O.D. is never less than tolerable. Scott’s work here may seem similar to his role on Parks and Recreation, a connection only heightened by the handful of scenes he has with his TV co-star Amy Poehler, as Jenkins’ current, and very selfish, wife. (It doesn’t help matters that his character on that NBC comedy went through the same plot as his character in the film does, with his divorced parents coming together for a wedding despite hating each other viscerally. No slight to Jenkins and O’Hara, but Jonathan Banks and Glenne Headly might have the edge on them.) Winstead, the only major player to not have her name on the poster for reasons escaping logical thought, is the winner in A.C.O.D., her character Lauren firmly rooted in sensibility and good thinking. Lauren clearly wants Carter to propose, but not just for show; she wants him to want to be committed to her, and the way she explains herself is the closest the film ever gets to sharp, yet reasonable, dialogue.
Divorce has become common in the United States, very close to the standard for how relationships wind up. Sometimes, people who get divorced gravitate back toward each other, either soon after or many years down the road. Sometimes, they can’t stand to be in the same room as each other. The impact of one couple splitting up can be massive and long-ranging, and worthy of exploration. A.C.O.D. doesn’t do much more than skim the surface, and it’s mostly thanks to the overqualified cast that any of the jokes—and sadly, too few of them—land with a chuckle or more. Adam Scott can do a variation on the henpecked suburbanite in his sleep, just as Richard Jenkins can be temperamental, Amy Poehler snooty, or Jane Lynch blissfully self-centered. But these actors can only do so much, elevate a scattered and annoying script to a certain level before it collapses on itself. A.C.O.D. may have worked better as a full-length documentary version of that end-credits montage, which promises something more insightful than this film was prepared to give.
— Josh Spiegel