The short review: Unlike the far bleaker Friends With Kids, first-time director Stuart Zicherman’s A.C.O.D. manages to take rather dour subject matter and elevates it to comedic heights, propelled by a terrific cast that’s anchored by Adam Scott and the bougiest wardrobe you’ve seen this side of a GQ spread.
The long review: No one’s family is perfect, but some people’s families are way less perfect than others. The pitch black comedy A.C.O.D. revolves around one of those less than perfect families, establishing just how awful they are right off the bat through a grainy home movie of a 9-year-old birthday party ruined by screaming, bickering parents. It is in this clip that you can see the parents sink their hooks into young Carter (Adam Scott), and the rest of the film finds him trying to recover and convince himself that he is well-adjusted after being emotionally drawn and quartered for the last thirty years of his life. In Carter’s own words, his parents were “married for nine years, but feels like they have been at war for a hundred.” They have since remarried – in some cases, multiple times – and are trying to move on with their lives while refusing to let Carter move on with his, manipulating him and trying to play him against the other like a pawn on their chessboard.
When Carter’s lazy lump of a little brother Trey (Clark Duke) decides to propose to his girlfriend of four months, Carter decides to take it upon himself to give Trey the perfect wedding, even when he makes the less-than-realistic request of wanting both his parents to attend. They haven’t been in the same room in twenty years, let alone come together to celebrate their son(s) as a family. Naturally, Carter is vehemently opposed to the whole thing. Seeing how his own parents’ relationships ended in flames, he’s something of a commitment-phobe himself, much to the chagrin of his extremely understanding girlfriend of four years (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and has always tried to shield Trey from the brutal realities of his family life. Of course, you can only play God for so long before you’re revealed to be a false idol, and it all comes crashing down.
As a an adult child with happily married parents (knock on wood), the specifics of the situation didn’t exactly resonate with me, but we’ve all been through moments of family strife, disagreements, and relationships that festered and laid fallow, and subsequent reconciliations, so it’s not as though this is impenetrable material for outsiders looking in. That being said, I imagine that for actual children of divorce, especially those who had to act the part of the adult during a tumultuous time in their life, this film will have deeper significance and emotional resonance. For example, both Adam Scott and Clark Duke are A.C.O.D.’s themselves, a fact which doesn’t seem to define them as people, but one which I found to give the film a further layer of authenticity in light of its comedic trappings.
The film moves at a steady clip, doling out the jokes and the pathos in equal portion as it zips along from one crisis to the next. What really makes the film sing though is its spot-on casting. As Carter’s parents, Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara lob wildly inappropriate insults at one another with a velocity that would astonish even the guy who did those Micro Machines commercials. Amy Poehler shines as the type-A third wife/stepmother that’s only a year older than Carter and Jane Lynch steals her scenes as the flighty academic with a caustic wit who studied and eventually wrote a book about Carter and people like him: the titular Adult Children of Divorce. Much like family around the holidays, the film stays a bit too long and wears out its welcome, but the film’s earnestness and its punchy, polished humor make it something you can’t help but love for what it is. Just like family.