Assembling a terrific cast is the main achievement of screenwriter Stuart Zicherman’s directorial debut, “A.C.O.D.” (an awkward acronym for “Adult Children of Divorce”), but the ensemble’s crack comic timing can only go so far to compensate for uneven scripting. Essentially just another movie about a thirtysomething guy unable to make a romantic commitment and grappling with the reasons why, the short and fitfully laugh-out-loud picture will make its strongest connection with audiences on the smallscreen or VOD.
Adam Scott is a wise choice for the sort of comedic Everyman role Ben Stiller might have played five or 10 years ago: successful restaurateur Carter, who has spent every year since his ninth birthday keeping the peace between his bitterly divorced parents, Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara), by keeping them as far apart as possible. With the sudden engagement of his younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) and the discovery that he was unwittingly one of the subjects for the bestselling “Children of Divorce” by the woman he thought was his therapist, Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch), Carter is forced to really consider how managing his parents’ divorce is working for him. Is their mutual hostility responsible for his inability to put a ring on lovely and endlessly patient yoga-instructor g.f. Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)? And what will it do to Carter’s carefully constructed worldview when his parents unexpectedly show interest in reconciliation?
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“A.C.O.D.” aims to explore the first generation of American adults for whom divorce is the norm and not the exception, but Zicherman and co-writer Ben Karlin’s screenplay settles for routine misunderstandings and conflicts, and only pops when the actors are free to play off each other’s natural gifts. The ensemble gels effortlessly, perhaps due to Scott’s previous professional experience with several co-stars: He played Jenkins’ son in “Step Brothers,” worked with Lynch on cult TV comedy “Party Down” and currently stars as Amy Poehler’s love interest in TV’s “Parks and Recreation” (a relationship that’s playfully tweaked here in Poehler’s too-brief appearances as Carter’s contentious stepmother).
There’s significant pleasure in seeing Jenkins and Lynch riff in pure oddball mode, O’Hara balancing her own patented eccentricity with surprising sex appeal in a rare screen appearance and Winstead elevating a thankless girlfriend role with intelligence and warmth. Scott brings his customary smarts and sharp delivery to an ultimately bland protagonist; Carter’s existential crisis simply isn’t interesting enough to sustain the movie, even at a scant 87 minutes, no matter how likable the leading man. This isn’t a case of a cast being squandered, simply not being challenged at the level it deserves.
Tech credits are solid, with no sign of strain in achieving the visual sheen of a mainstream studio comedy. Numerous crew members pop up to reveal their own status as adult children of divorce (plus a few children of still married parents) in a mini-docu segment that plays over the closing credits.