Sundance '13: 'A.C.O.D.' Brings Smart, Hearty Laughs for Great Comedy
by Ethan Anderton
January 25, 2013
With parents who have been married for over 25 years now, a comedy titled A.C.O.D. (which stands for Adult Children of Divorce) doesn't seem like it would be immediately appealing to me. But the directorial debut from Stu Zicherman (who wrote Elektra and the J.J. Abrams melodrama TV series "Six Degrees") features a cast that includes Adam Scott, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O'Hara, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke, Jane Lynch and Jessica Alba, and that's a bingo. Thankfully, the film which I was eagerly anticipating before it premiere at Sundance this week delivered a phenomenal comedy with some sharp writing, stellar acting and a direct line to the heart of all adult children of divorce.
The film follows Adam Scott as Carter, a man whose ninth birthday was ruined by an explosive fight between his parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara) which required police involvement to calm everything down. Decades later, Carter is seemingly put together with his own restaurant and a decent relationship with his mother and father (but never at the same time, for fear of loss of life). But all that changes when his younger brother Trey decides to get married and wants both parents at the wedding, giving Carter the task of helping them get along for the civility's sake. However, the shit really hits the fan when Carter discovers that his mother and father are falling back in love, all over a kitchen counter.
What easily could have been the formula for a run of the mill romantic comedy is heightened and finely tuned by a smart script that has clearly been helped by nine years of rewrites since the screenplay was first conceived as "Divorce Comedy" in 2003. The ensemble of characters are all handled with care and add something substantial to the story. This includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the girlfriend who isn't just spectating the madness, Amy Poehler as a bitchy step-mother and Jane Lynch as a fame and accolade hungry faux therapist (or rather researcher) desperate to write a follow-up book to her original studies about Carter and other children living with divorce (hence the film's title).
Zicherman has made a bold choice here by having Scott lead the film with only some indie films giving him a starring role previously. But Scott is charming, strong and just plain funny, which makes his presence in literally every single scene more than welcome. His dry sarcasm just penetrates the funny bone to the core, complete with facial expressions amusingly full of bewilderment and befuddlement. However, Catherine O'Hara and Richard Jenkins light up any scene when they start lunging after each others throats with some gut busting insults and outbursts. Basically, you'll be laughing the whole way through, and that pain in your stomach after it's all over will be well-earned by this hilarious script by Zicherman and Ben Karlin.
Basically, what makes A.C.O.D. work so well is the respect Zicherman pays to his characters by making them feel like real people and not just caricatures spewing one-liners. Coming from an adult child of divorce, there's heart here, and Zicherman and Karlin also make sure to avoid romantic comedy cliches. For example, one solution Scott attempts to get his life back on track after going over the edge would normally be a point of redemption, but this isn't a fairytale fantasy. And there are great moments throughout the film, right to the very end, that go against all the usual romantic nonsense.
A.C.O.D. is the best comedy at Sundance this year, and will likely be one of the best comedies of 2013. With an all-star cast bringing and polished script to life for our entertainment, this is just a delight. The film is full of energy, hearty laughter, witty banter and transcends the romantic comedy subgenre. Stu Zicherman is a fresh new filmmaker who will hopefully bring more great comedy in the years to come, and A.C.O.D. is more than a fine directorial debut; it's a remarkable comedy full of heart and will leave you with a big goofy smile on your face.
For a more candid reaction, check out this video blog recorded with Germain Lussier from SlashFilm:
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10