January 24, 2013



Stu Zicherman’s A.C.O.D. (written by Zicherman and Ben Karlin) suffers a bit from a familiar indie comedy malady:  the conflicting desires to tell meaningful and even dark stories, while at the same time getting a studio pick-up and selling some tickets.  The result, while funny at times and incisive at times, doesn’t successfully combine both.

The title stands for Adult Children Of Divorce, and the movie’s Exhibit A is Carter (Adam Scott).  His parents Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) split up, brutally, at Carter’s 9th birthday party, and the divorce was extended and corrosive.  20 years later, both parents have remarried–Hugh to Sondra (Amy Poehler) and Melissa to Gary (Ken Howard)–and although Carter considers himself successful and well-adjusted, with a successful restaurant and lovely long-term girlfriend Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he still bears the scars.

One of Carter’s post-divorce skills is to serve as negotiator between his still-angry parents, and when his brother Trey (Clark Duke) announces his engagement, Carter has to get Hugh and Melissa to agree to attend the wedding despite the other’s presence, an act that has unintended consequences.  That’s one of the events that kickstarts the story; the other is Carter’s discovery that the therapist he thought he was seeing as a pre-adolescent was actually writer/researcher Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch), who put his experiences (under an assumed name) into a bestselling book, and she now wants to do a sequel.  Once he starts talking to her, he realizes that he has a distrust and a fear of commitment that have kept him in a holding pattern with Lauren for 4 years, and that he’s more fearful and bitter than he’s ever acknowledged.

This could have been the stuff of a fairly serious movie, or a comedy with a real edge, and at times, that’s what ACOD is.  But it’s also a broad sitcom that doesn’t allow Hugh, Melissa and Dr. Judith to be more than cartoons, and builds to a strictly farcical conclusion where almost all the characters arrive at the same location at the same time, for no good reason at all.  Some of this is funny–put Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara at each other’s throats, and you’re going to get some laughs–but it doesn’t mix with the more realistic and emotional moments in the script, and the characters veer between acting like believable human beings and being punchlines.  The movie’s schizophrenia is summed up by its last few minutes, which follows the farce with the kind of inconclusive non-ending that’s standard in indie movies, but jarring in a pure comedy (and which drew boos at the Sundance screening).

There’s a tremendous amount of talent involved here, so it’s all something of a waste.  Scott does a good job of navigating his character’s moods (in a way, he has the easiest job, because his character is the most fleshed-out), but Winstead is no more than The Girl, Jessica Alba turns up for a plotline that starts off promisingly and then drops completely out of the movie, and Poehler has one scene with Scott toward the end to remind of us of the amazing chemistry between the two of them on Parks & Recreation and how well that show is written.

Zicherman, like most of this year’s Sundance comedy directors (but not all–Toy’s House is a welcome exception) has delivered a movie that looks even less appealing than a typical single-camera network sitcom (Karlin, a former Daily Show senior writer, now works on Modern Family, a show that handles varied tones better than the movie and looks less perfunctory while doing it).  The photography and musical score are completely undistinctive

ACOD, unable to decide whether to push its yuks or its insights, ends up shortchanging both. 

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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."