In the 1979 Oscar-winning drama Kramer vs. Kramer, a young son watches as his parent’s relationship falls apart. He sees his mother leave the family and then watches as his two parents fight over him.
Now, imagine that kid 25 ears later and with selfish and conniving parents, who made his childhood miserable as they were separating. If you do that, you have the makings of the new dramedy A.C.O.D., an awkward abbreviation for “Adult Children of Divorce.”
The story revolves around Carter (an amiable Adam Scott), who even in his 30s lives in the shadow of his parent’s separation and divorce. Neither his father Hugh (Richard Jenkins) or his mother Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) can stand to exist in the same room with one another, so Carter is constantly torn between them. We learn early on that their divorce–which occurred years earlier–was “particularly nasty,” and both characters attest to that fact as often as they can.
Early on, Carter’s younger brother Trey (Clark Duke)–whose age prevented him from seeing the wreckage of his parent’s separation firsthand–gets engaged to a woman he barely knows while Carter–ever the commitment-phobe–is in the fourth year of a relationship with his girlfriend Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Trey, ever the idealist, asks his older brother for help in getting his parents to attend his wedding. Of course, neither say yes leading Carter to lie and manipulate his parents into getting along again. His goal is a worthy one but inevitably leads to a more complicated situation than Carter could’ve imagined
The story here benefits from a strong supporting cast including Amy Poehler (Scott’s Parks and Recreation costar who ironically plays his stepmother here) and Ken Howard (as Melissa’s latest beau). Jane Lynch also appears as a surprisingly self-involved and dry-witted writer who interviewed Carter in his youth about his parent’s divorce.
The cast–specifically O’Hara, Poehler and Lynch–excel, but one sometimes wishes that the script did them more favors. Writers Ben Karlin and Stu Zicherman too often fall into stereotypical traps that feel out-of-place. A possible romantic relationship that Carter explores halfway though, for one, feels completely out of character and doesn’t fit into the rest of the story. Additionally, it’s obvious from the beginning that Hugh and Melissa will inevitably find their passionate hatred for each other fueling another type of relationship. And the tacked-on ending– where every one of the main characters finds themselves in the same room together–is forced. As if the writers were looking for a clear way to clear this whole story up.
There’s enough in A.C.O.D to recommend it as a matinee but it’s hard not to leave the theater disappointed that the execution falters along the way. Early on, the story has the potential to be a great comedy, but when the short 90-minute running time is over, the plot has come apart and the whole story feels a bit tired.
Sure, it has some funny moments along the way and several fun performances, but the satisfaction you feel at its end will only please you for a few moments. Then the laughs that this comedy earns while you’re sitting in the theater will feel miles away. Separations, it seems, can do that to people.