As a fellow A.C.O.D. (that’s an acronym for “Adult Child of Divorce”), the idea of a film trying to probe deep into diffuse effects of divorce is an enticing one. If director Stuart Zicherman doesn’t seem quite sure where to run with the ball, he at least delivers enough moments of honesty and hilarity to make the pic work.
Carter (Adam Scott) begins the tale by explaining that his parents Hugh and Melissa (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara) decided to get divorced on his 9th birthday in the middle of a blazing row. Ever since, Carter has kept them at an arm’s length, until his brother Trey (Clark Duke) declares that he is getting married to his new girlfriend.
With the prospect of his parents having to share the same floor space for a night, this causes Carter to re-examine how he coped with the divorce as a youth. He soon discovers that he was part of a research study (which became a best-selling book) about children from broken homes, overseen by the shark-like Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch).
In its opening half, A.C.O.D. is a delight, providing sharp observations about the awkward familial schism that divorce creates. Some well-placed digs at the reductive nature of psychology meanwhile makes for some amusingly passive-aggressive banter between Lynch and Scott. Carter becomes transfixed on the proposed idea that his life can be defined by what happened to him as a child, and keenly wishes to prove it wrong.
The irony is that in doing so, he pushes his parents closer together, an amusing if unnecessary episode that threatens to derail their own second marriages, as well as Trey’s wedding and Carter’s relaxed long-term relationship with his girlfriend Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). If this narrative trajectory dominates too much of the film’s second half, it is at least consistently amusing – though not hilarious – in doing so.
Without the pressure to amuse, this could have been a fierce drama with tinges of dark comedy, though Zicherman aims for something far more broad and commercial. There’s little doubt that lead Scott, who impresses in just about everything in which he stars, could have carried a heavier load, and it’s a shame the more truthful through-points of the narrative are sugar-coated by easy gags.
Still, it will be taken as unconventional enough to win its fans, and those who have encountered similar life circumstances will effortlessly connect with it. It doesn’t stick in the mind as deeply as it should, and Amy Poehler feels woefully miscast as Hugh’s moody, beleaguered wife, but there’s just enough edge overall to make it work. Also, Jessica Alba’s cameo as one of Carter’s fellow child experiments – kitted out in loose-fitting clothes and tattoos – is a brief, unexpected treat.
Disappointingly opts for broad humour over genuine drama in its second half, but anyone who has been through a similar situation will find it undeniably resonant.
A.C.O.D. premiered at Sundance London last week.
This article was first posted on May 1, 2013