3 out of 4 stars
The micro-thin sub-genre of divorce movies fall into three distinct camps: mainstream-friendly comedy (“The First Wives Club,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”), monumentally depressing dramas (“Revolutionary Road,” “Blue Valentine,” “Heartburn,” “Stepmom,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Far From Heaven”) or faux-spiritual uplift chick-flicks (“Hope Floats,” “Eat Pray Love”). The two that kind of mixed all three — plus heavy doses of black humor — “War of the Roses” and “The Squid and the Wale” — are the best of lot.
Never depressing but often serious, “A.C.O.D” is also too profane and raunchy for the PG-13 demographic, only flirts with spiritual issues and is not quite black but instead just mildly sarcastic. It gets extra points for being the first film to deal with (as the acronym title indicates) adult children of divorce which pushes it into strongly recommendable territory.
After a blisteringly hilarious flashback scene via a fake old home movie, co-writer/first-time director Stu Zicherman — who based the screenplay on his own experiences — settles into quasi-premium cable mode. Atlanta restaurant owner Carter (Adam Scott) is asked by his kid brother Trey (Clark Duke) to be the best man at his wedding and — if it’s not too much trouble — sway their divorced parents into attending.
Instantly becoming squeamish and dismissive, Carter — who would rather take a flaming stick to the eye than become a go-between for his brother — tries to talk Trey out of getting hitched. They’re both young, they have no money, she’s Asian, he’s not, etc. When that approach becomes a non-starter, Carter gnashes his teeth, whitens his knuckles and prepares for the impending metaphorical carnage.
Father Hugh (Richard Jenkins, superb) and mother Melissa (Catherine O’Hara, less so) broke up decades ago but still loathe each other. When Carter surreptitiously invites both of them to the same dinner with him, they become thoroughly unglued and throw major hissy fits. With a firm, steady hand, Carter stays cool and sparingly calm, assumes the role of both judge and shrink and lays down the law: they WILL attend the wedding and they WILL make nice for Trey’s sake. Mutually realizing their selfish error, Hugh and Melissa grudgingly agree to get with the program.
In an unrelated subplot, Carter is asked by old family friend Judith (Jane Lynch) to submit to a series of interviews she’s conducting for a follow-up book examining the lives of now adult children of divorce. Carter didn’t know it then but soon finds out that the meetings he had with Judith as a child during his parents’ divorce became part of the content for a book he never knew existed. Beyond stunned and flummoxed, Carter agrees to Judith’s request not so much to help her but to set the record straight and prove her decidedly wrong.
On the way out of a meeting with Judith, Carter meets Michelle (Jessica Alba), another A.C.O.D. on her way in to one of the same. With this brief, less-than-one-minute scene and another slightly longer one later in the film, Alba turns in the best (“best” being relative) performance of her entire career. Alba gets dangerously close here to being very good for the first time ever.
Always better than good, Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes the most of her largely thankless role as Carter’s longtime girlfriend Lauren. The only character in the movie without any noticeable psychological and/or emotional ticks, the Lauren character lends the production a soft warmth it otherwise lacks.
It is to Zicherman and co-writer Ben Karlin’s credit that they include a huge, out-of-left-field twist halfway through that radically changes the entire tone of the narrative in a most welcomed manner. It is so good that any hint or mention of what it is would prove to be a fatal spoiler. Unfortunately, a great deal of the filmmakers’ cleverness and sharp observation is offset by the last two scenes — one that is low-level, sitcom grade, overblown farce and a finale that is left inexplicably and needlessly open-ended.
The movie will be of slightly more interest to residents in and around Atlanta who will have a veritable field day identifying the set locations and to other A.C.O.D. types who know this drill all too well and don’t mind viewing the goings-on in a more humorous and slightly skewed light. (Film Arcade)