For a child, the divorce of his or her parents can be an emotional rollercoaster that can leave the youngster uncertain and hesitant to trust. That’s also a fairly spot-on description of “A.C.O.D.,” an intermittently funny but ultimately disappointing comedy about the lasting damage that a splitting couple can inflict upon their kids.
If nothing else, it’s a testament to the charisma and charm of Adam Scott that he can make the film’s whiny, sack-of-self-pity lead character even remotely tolerable; a lesser actor would send audiences running for the exits. But not even Scott and a funny-elsewhere ensemble can make this contrived and erratic farce ring true.
Carter (Scott) may look like he’s got his act together — he’s a dashing, successful restauranteur in a long-term relationship with sexy, supportive yoga teacher Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — but Carter has spent most of his life consciously or unconsciously dealing with the supremely acrimonious divorce of his parents Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) decades earlier. “You turned a nine-year marriage into a hundred-year war,” he scolds them at one point.
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Hugh and Melissa have remained well clear of each other for years, but now that Carter‘s younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) is engaged to be married, Carter has to get his sparring mother and father to agree to be in the same room together, which reopens all his childhood issues. His fragile psyche then gets another one-two punch: Hugh and Melissa start having an affair, even though each has a new spouse, and Carter learns his childhood therapist Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch) was actually a researcher, and that her book about Carter and other children of divorce became a huge best-seller.
Throw in Amy Poehler and Ken Howard as Clark’s step-parents, and you might imagine that “A.C.O.D.” (an abbreviation of “Adult Children of Divorce”) would be a brilliant, neurotic comedy about parents and children and relationships. And yes, these performers know how to land the occasional funny line in Ben Karlin and Stuart Zicherman’s screenplay — Hugh: “I love you like a son.” Carter: “I am your son.” — it’s ultimately hard to care about any of these sketchy ciphers.
Carter is so deeply buried in his own navel that it’s hard to understand what Lauren sees in him, Hugh and Melissa are selfish, bourgeois caricatures, and the movie can’t decide if Dr. Judith is a voice of reason or just a cruel opportunist.
Poor Jessica Biel appears as a fellow grown-up subject from Dr. Judith’s book, only to be summarily dismissed after a few scenes that add absolutely nothing to the proceedings long before “A.C.O.D.” climaxes with a scene that, in a more competent movie, might be considered enigmatic or provocative. Capping off a script this inconsistent and meandering, it comes off as merely sloppy and noncommittal.
This is the sort of movie you watch on a long flight because you like at least one of the cast members, and you laugh a few times, and then you forget that you ever saw it. And for the sake of our ongoing relationship with these very capable comic actors, that’s probably for the best.