Review: ‘A.C.O.D.’ Mines Broken Marriages for Laughs

By October 4, 2013
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Half of all marriages end in divorce, but we’re told that the one in A.C.O.D. was “particularly sh***y.” As evidence, the film presents camcorder footage from the main character’s now-infamous 9th birthday party, where his parents’ screaming match attracted the police. Tough break for the family, but we’re delighted: the parents are played by Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara. A movie can’t be too bad if it’s got either of them, let alone both.

A.C.O.D. (which stands for “adult children of divorce”) is full of casting pleasures like that, including Adam Scott as the high-strung thirtysomething child of that divorce, Amy Poehler as his stepmother (yes, she’s Jenkins’ new wife), Jane Lynch as his childhood therapist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his girlfriend, and Clark Duke as his shiftless younger brother. Some of those people are on the “I’d watch them in anything” list for a lot of us, and the film — a sharp but warm-hearted comedy with a hint of rom-com spice — is more than happy to take advantage of its cast’s built-in likability.

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Adam Scott’s character, Carter, was wrecked by his parents’ disastrous breakup, and has been their unwilling go-between ever since. Even after all these years, they still hate each other and refuse to be in the same room together. In Carter’s words, they “turned a nine-year marriage into a hundred-year war,” albeit a highly amusing one. (Again, amusing for the us as viewers, not for Carter.) When Carter’s brother, Trey, gets engaged to a girl he’s only known for four months, Carter has to confront two issues: his own perfectly understandable wariness toward marriage, and his duty as older brother to get Mom and Dad to both come to the wedding.

Despite the childhood turmoil, Carter fancies himself a well-adjusted adult, and his success as the owner of an upscale restaurant counts in his favor. He thinks his stable relationship with a yoga instructor named Lauren (Winstead) is evidence that his parents didn’t screw him up too bad; on the other hand, Lauren meekly points out that Trey is getting married after four months while she’s been seeing Carter for four years and doesn’t even have a key to his apartment.

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The commitment-phobic child of divorce may not be an original trope for an indie comedy about affluent white people — seriously, these characters are all very well-to-do and very white — but screenwriters Ben Karlin (The Onion, The Daily Show) and Stu Zicherman (who also directed) offer some praiseworthy variations on the familiar scenarios that arise. Carter reconnects with his former therapist, who it turns out wrote a book about him and other C.O.D.’s and now wants to do a followup. Jessica Alba appears as a fellow case study, and the film wisely steers away from using her character the way you think it’s going to. Carter’s relationships with his brother, his stepmother, his stepfather (Ken Howard), his girlfriend, and both of his parents are treated intelligently and often hilariously. Not a lot of insight, perhaps, but plenty of laughs.

As much as I like Adam Scott on “Parks and Recreation,” his work as this film’s central character is slight — perfectly acceptable, but without the kind of strength and energy you want from a comedic lead. Fortunately, he’s surrounded by performers who are more dynamic, especially O’Hara, Jenkins, and Duke. They all add flavor to a bright and breezy story.

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Eric D. Snider
Eric has been a film critic since 1999, and a beard wearer since 2008. He holds a degree in journalism and used to work in "the newspaper industry," back when that was a thing.