“He’s about to ruin a perfectly good divorce.”
Director: Stuart Zicherman
Cast: Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara
Synopsis: A grown man caught in the crossfire of his parents’ 15-year divorce discovers he was unknowingly part of a study on divorced children and is enlisted in a follow-up years later, which wreaks new havoc on his family.
As one of the offspring of a marriage that has lasted over sixty years, I seem to be in a minority these days, so there should be a vast, ready-made audience capable of relating to every aspect of Stu Zicherman’s semi-autobiographical A.C.O.D. That acronym stands for Adult Children of Divorce, and the movie attempts to explore the adult psychological repercussions of the trauma of seeing your parents systematically dismantling the only world you’ve ever known when still a child.
At the beginning of the film, 30-something restaurateur Carter (Adam Scott — Piranha 3D) believes he’s emerged from the collapse of his parents’ marriage pretty much unscathed, but events soon conspire to prove otherwise. When his kid brother, Trey (Clark Duke — Identity Thief, Kick Ass 2) announces his impending marriage to Kieko (Valerie Tian — The Moth Diaries, 21 Jump Street) after just a few months together, it falls to Carter to bring together his parents — who still despise one another — in an attempt to persuade them to call a truce at least until the wedding has taken place. However, rather than deepen their mutual enmity, fifteen years apart has served only to rekindle Carter’s parents passion for one another, and it’s not long before they’re cheating on their respective partners with one another.
So not only does Carter grow up witnessing his parents breaking up, he also suffers the trauma of catching them in the physical act of getting re-acquainted. This traumatic experience drives him straight to the office of Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch), the woman whom he believed to be his childhood psychologist, but whom he now discovers was actually merely carrying out research for a book on children of divorce while he was unloading his deepest thoughts. Even worse — after tracking down a copy of the book, Carter discovers that she portrayed him as a wretched kid doomed to a life of failure.
It’s funny how the synopses for comedies can so often fit tales of human misery and unhappiness, isn’t it? Fortunately, Zicherman and co-writer Ben Karlin keep the tone light and just about manage to squeeze enough laughs out of their material to prevent it from feeling forced. Too often, writers go searching for laughs in areas when none exist, but by widening its scope to also focus on the peripheral figures, A.C.O.D. at least manages to find enough fertile ground to prevent its premise from wearing thin. If anything, the film casts its net so wide that it seems to lose track of some of its strands with some incidents — such as Carter nearly cheating on his girlfriend with an accommodating fellow subject of Dr Judith’s divorce book — going nowhere (in fact, I get the feeling that, had the woman Carter nearly cheated with not been played by Jessica Alba [Awake] that whole strand might have ended up on the cutting room floor).
The cast does well at making often self-centred characters likeable. Carter’s parents in particular seem to care for no-one but themselves, but as they’re played with such a light touch by the likes of Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins (Killing Them Softly, Jack Reacher) it’s virtually impossible to dislike them. Scott — who, despite looking like a cross between a Harry Enfield character and Mr Bean on the movie’s poster, is more of a mix of Richard Benjamin and David Tennant — also does well as the apparently only sane member of the cast, albeit one who receives little sympathy throughout for being the only one to respond rationally to the situation he finds his family in.
Overall, though, the comedy is perhaps a little too lightweight and a little too short on insight to be considered a complete success. The comedy grows flabbier as the film goes on and the writers struggle to find a way to tie up all the loose ends. Too many characters are dismissed out of hand, and a deliberately ambiguous final shot does the movie nothing but harm. The ambiguous ending has become something of a fad in the past few years, but it’s simply not suited for an observational comedy like this. Nevertheless, A.C.O.D. will undoubtedly appeal to those who are, themselves, adult children of divorce.
(Reviewed 18th October 2014)