Melissa and Hugh divorced decades ago, but the heat never left their hate. They still go at it, hammer and tong, voices shrieking, threats rising and profanity flying. And they’re every bit as funny as old pros Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins can make them.
Their eldest son, Carter (Adam Scott) may not be able to “Make the madness stop.” His oft-married dad is still a serial philanderer, and mom is still the harpy who never lets him forget it. But Carter manages them as only an “A.C.O.D.” can.
That’s “Adult Child of Divorce,” an acronym for a very real subculture that earns a movie comedy that is funnier in performance than it ever was as a script. Scott (“Step Brothers,” “Guilt Trip”) plays the sane corner of calm in the sea of storms his parents thrive on. When Carter’s younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) announces his engagement, Carter is the one Trey trusts will make peace between the warring couple that gave birth to them. Fat chance.
“If I’m paying, SHE can’t come!”
“What about a SURPRISE wedding? Your father wouldn’t even have to know about it!”
Carter is a restaurateur who has used a lifetime of calming the waters as training for dealing with irate customers. But this last, great throw-down has him questioning how he’s turned out, how he can soothe the hurt feelings of his parents’ latest spouses (Amy Poehler and Ken Howard), how he can mollify his more-than-patient girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Maybe a visit to his childhood shrink will help. But chatting with Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch, on-the-nose casting) reveals that she’s not a real therapist, merely a researcher who used the young Carter and several others to write a best-seller about children of divorce.
Seeing him now, she can barely contain her glee at the idea of doing a follow-up book — about Adult Children of Divorce.
Scott is the rather staid center that a stellar crew of zanies surrounds, and there’s just enough movie here to give most of them moments to shine. Jessica Alba, in perhaps her finest performance, is sexy, aloof and amusingly damaged as another former Dr. Judith “subject.”
Poehler dials it up as Hugh’s latest trophy wife, a harridan hated by the rest of the family. And Howard is sweetly non-plussed as Melissa’s mild-mannered counterpoint of a husband.
But Duke, so hilarious in films such as “Kick Ass,” is given nothing funny to play.
Winstead plays a female version of a straight man, as well.
Veteran TV writer turned co-writer/director Stu Zicherman sees to it that Jenkins and O’Hara more than cover those shortfalls. Their characters are nothing short of maddening, and the duo pull out all the stops in their fights and what comes after those fights. Lynch, self-absorbed and superior as ever, delivers the lines (some of them narrated) that connect the comedy to the zeitgeist, the truths behind the farce.
“You are the least parented, least nurtured generation” in American history, she consoles Carter and his A.C.O.D. peers. They’ve become adults who “walk around like victims,” “shells of insecurity” who cope by negotiating over everything. No wonder they’re so screwed up.
The promise of the premise and the gift of this cast is sort of wasted in a thinly scripted film that’s too brief to let everyone have moments to shine, too focused on its straight-laced lead Scott to allow more big laughs. With a wedding on the way, parents behaving badly and messed-up kids coming to grips with their legacy, this should have been a manic 90 minutes.
“A.C.O.D.” should have been a lot more A.D.H.D.
Cast: Adam Scott, Catherine O’Hara, Richard Jenkins, Jane Lynch, Amy Poehler, Jessica Alba, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clark Duke
Directed by Stu Zicherman, written by Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman. A Film Arcade release.
Running time: 1:27
MPAA rating: R for language and brief sexual content