A fantastic cast of talented comic and character actors have assembled for A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce), but unfortunately that only makes its failures all the more disappointing. Adam Scott, who’s reliably great each week on TV’s Parks and Recreation, leads the cast as Carter, a man still caught between his warring parents years after their messy divorce. Alongside him are other similarly impressive sitcom talents; Amy Poehler (also from Parks & Rec) plays his father’s third and current spouse, Clark Duke (The Office) is his younger brother, and Jane Lynch (Glee) is the woman he believes was his therapist as a child. Then there’s Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara as his estranged parents, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his long-term girlfriend, and even Jessica Alba has a small role. Quite how the film manages to squander such talent is an achievement in itself.
The plot hinges around two key events in Carter’s life. The first is the realization that he was never in therapy as a child, but rather he was one of the subjects of a book penned by Lynch’s Dr. Judith about the affect the children of divorce. Upon realizing this and reading the book that presents him as a perpetual victim, he takes it upon himself to take charge of his life and rather than pussyfoot around his parents any longer, demands that they’re civil with each other. What happens next will be familiar to anyone who saw Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated, and when his estranged parents embark on an ill-advised affair it puts all the relationships in the movie under strain as a result.
It’s a broadly comic set-up, but that doesn’t gel too well with the more serious themes the film’s aiming to address; namely the way that parents divorcing can have a profound affect on children long into their adult life. During the end credits we see numerous members of the film’s crew being interviewed about how divorce affected their childhoods, as if to hammer home the point of just how many people of a particular generation this affects, and quite to what degree. Those are real people speaking, and as a result one can’t help but care. The comic caricatures assembled around Carter in the movie itself make it much harder to.
The supporting players seem to act exclusively in a way that will either raise a laugh or advance the plot, and that doesn’t help us get to grips with Carter and what he’s going through. It doesn’t help either that the characters are such an unlikeable bunch (a severely underused Jessica Alba and Mary Elizabeth Winstead aside), and Scott’s Carter might just be the hardest one of all to identify with. Now all of this may sound overly critical, but it’s not that the film’s a resounding failure, more that it narrowly misses the mark more often than not. The result is a film frustratingly less than the sum of its parts.