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A.C. O. D. (2013) review

October 24, 2013

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written by: Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman

produced by: Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Karlin & Tim Perrell

directed by: Stu Zicherman

rating: R (for language and brief sexual content)

runtime: 90 min.

U.S. release date: October 4, 2013 and October 11, 2013 (limited)

 

Divorce has always been around, but it seems like it wasn’t until the 80s that we really started getting the numbers presented to us. I remember it well, since I was a teen then and experiencing my own parents divorce. When you go through all that confusion and drama you become aware of all the other kids around you that are going through the same thing. Now, there’s a movie about us, only who we are now, not then – so, in essence how we wound up twentysomething years later. It’s called “A.C.O.D.”, which stands for “Adult Children of Divorce”, which is funny and odd, because, although I’ve heard the term before, I haven’t put myself in such a category in quite a while, but here we have Adam Scott for our avatar.

Carter (Adam Scott) is a fortysomething restauranteur who’s convinced he’s happy, at least that’s what he’d say if you asked him. He has a good thing going with Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whom he’s been dating for the past four years. He seems to have compartmentalized his estranged relationships with his Lothario father, Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and his uptight and somewhat screwy mother, Melissa (Catherine O’Hara), in a manageable way that works for him. Less is more – sanity, at least. It’s a self-preservation tactic Carter has employed to deal with his parent’s still bitter separation, even though they’ve been apart since he was a teen.

He calls their split “the 100 Year War” even though they were only together nine years. Parents can act like children sometimes. Both parents currently have their own spouses, yet expend an enormous amount of hate toward their exes. Hugh has two small children with Sondra (Amy Poehler), a controlling presence who’s only a couple years older than Carter, while Melissa is married to Gary (Ken Howard), a sweet cuckhold she walks all over. So, now as an adult, Carter still has an example of the opposite of marital bliss.

 

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As the family peacemaker Carter’s developed system soon becomes compromised when his younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke), decides to marry his girlfriend, Keiko (Valerie Tan), of four months. Not only is Carter registering how one pops the question after four months, he also now has to figure out how to get their parents in the same room for one night for Trey’s wedding. Neither of them make it easy for Carter. Fed up, Carter deceives them both by inviting them to dinner on the same night at the same place, a very public swanky place (I know, standard sitcom trope, right?). As expected, they both throw a fit, but Carter isn’t having it, wishes them well and takes off, leaving them to have dinner with each other, for the first time in who knows how many years.

His plans backfires, as the results of his sneaky makeup session turns out to be an unpredictable make-out session.  Carter learns this in the most revolting and awkward way possible. But that’s not all. Revelations and temptations are around the corner that throw Carter even further off-balance. While seeking advice from Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch), the woman he thought was his childhood therapist (back when his parents were splitting up) was actually just a researcher who incorporated candidates like Carter and others, like (a tattooed Jessica Alba), who becomes a kindred spirit and a something of a temptress. It doesn’t help that the best-seller Dr. Judith wrote, Children of Divorce, recounted his life

Now, Carter has to deal with being there for his little brother, comprehending what is developing with his parents, figuring out his own love life and dodging Dr. Judith as she gears up for a  sequel, entitled A.C.O.D. Hilarity ensues.

 

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This is the directorial debut for writer Stu Zicherman, who co-wrote the movie with Ben Karlin (who’s worked as a script doctor for a while and also wrote for both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”), in which they’ve produced a screenplay that’s bogged down by sitcom formula. The movie manages to hit some solid emotional notes, but it’s too often dismissed by broad strokes of comedy. If feels like the movie is almost in too much of a hurry to give any real characterization for these actors to invest in.

Still, it’s an undeniable delight to watch the cast bring natural humor to the forefront of such dysfunctional characters. Jenkins and O’Hara especially, are two actors who are always a welcome addition to any cast. Although I prefer him in dramas (“The Visitor”) or subtler comedies (“The Cabin in the Woods”), Jenkins has been known to indulge in the funny bone, sometimes it can be a bit much (“Step Brothers”) or a little off (“Friends with Benefits”) or just right (“Fun with Dick and Jane”). Here, he lands somewhere between the last two. O’Hara seems to have more of a handle on her character, offering casual subtleties and smart comic improv to the role. The pair usually manage to bring some welcome nuances to any their roles, as they migrate genres, but it’s always a treat to see them really embracing a role. It’s too bad they’re not given more to work with here. That goes for Winstead (on actress I’m quite fond of) too, who is kind of relegated to “girlfriend” status – and just left there.

Which brings me to Scott’s performance. Sure, he’s great and quite fitting in the lead role, but there’s something all too familiar about it. Maybe it’s because he’s often found playing these anxious characters whose carpet is pulled out from under him. Come to think of it, much of Carter’s issues with his parents seems awfully similar to an episode of “Parks and Recreation”, involving Ben’s (also played by Scott) anxiety about getting his bickersome parents in the same room.  Scott gets credit for having the charm and charisma that offsets his anxiety, but as a fan of the actor’s work, I couldn’t help put wish new material for the guy. It’s both ironic and unfortunate to see Scott’s co-star from television, Poehler, here with a slim part that gives her barely anything to do.

Strangely, Zicherman ends his movie with various video clips, played throughout the end credits,  of adults admitting (or acknowledging) that they too are Adult Children of Divorce, to which I say – so what? It just seemed like an outdated recognition to me. May if I had watched a compelling drama on the subject or had seen a comedy that offered something different or new, I might take those snippets differently. As it is though, they just felt redundant.

“A.C.O. D.” is an odd title for a movie. It’s less clunky than spelling it out, but unless you’re aware of what the acronym stands for, my bet is you won’t care about the movie unless you’re aware who’s in it. Even knowing the actors involved, many of them quite talented and gifted with fine comic timing, still doesn’t make up for lousy editing, unmemorable directing and a predictable screenplay. It’s not an awful film, nor is it boring, but it relies too much on the audience’s enjoyment of Scott and his supporting cast and that’s just not enough.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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