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Sundance review: “A.C.O.D.”

by on January 28, 2013


Ah, the folly of high expectations at a Sundance movie.

Every year, there’s at least one movie that seems like a slam-dunk, an easy call on whether or not to see it, based on its cast, subject matter, writer or director. And every year, at least one of those supposed automatic winners turns out to not quite live up to my self-made hype.

This year, that movie is A.C.O.D., a dramedy written and directed by Stuart Zicherman, about one man dealing with being an adult child of divorce. I didn’t know anything about Zicherman going in–his background is in action films like Elektra and Rush Hour 2–and it was the cast of comedy all-stars that drew me to A.C.O.D. After all, how can you go wrong when a movie features Adam Scott, Catherine O’Hara, Richard Jenkins, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch and Clark Duke–all actors I’ve seen and loved in comedies for years?

A.C.O.D. doesn’t exactly go wrong so much as it never achieves complete comedic lift-off. There are some solid one-liners, winning episodes throughout the film, and the actors are all in fine form, yet I found myself going long stretches between laughs–too long. That said, the dramatic side of the movie was stronger than anticipated and I’m sure many actual adult children of divorce will find plenty to connect with in the story of Carter (Scott), who has spent a lifetime as the referee between his warring parents (Jenkins and O’Hara) and emotional guardian of his little brother Trey (Duke).

The story is set in motion when Trey gets engaged, and Carter sets out to get his parents to be in the same room together for the first time in 20 years. For help navigating the rocky emotional terrain, Carter goes to his childhood therapist (Lynch), who he now discovers is actually an academic who was using her discussions with the adolescent Carter for fodder for a book on children of divorce. Now reconnected, she sells Carter on the idea of exploring his adult life as he still deals with his parents’ apparent disdain for each other.

Lynch delivers another strong, small character here, as does Poehler as Carter’s bitchy stepmother. O’Hara and Jenkens are both excellent as the angry exes who find themselves once again drawn together through their kids, and Scott has the befuddled everyman act down cold, as anyone who watches him with Poehler on Parks & Recreation already knows.

Despite the cast’s efforts, though, I couldn’t help thinking A.C.O.D. didn’t live up to the potential of that cast to be more laugh-out-loud funny that simply droll and amusing. That’s the fault of the script, not the cast. Scott’s Carter carries the film, and he’s the least funny character, too often simply the straight man to the secondary characters’ better gags.

While A.C.O.D. aims to make divorce funny, and manages to show its possible in flashes, it doesn’t ultimately succeed.

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