A.C.O.D. doesn't begin with a joke, but with a statistic: 54% of people in the world are "adult children of divorce. Not exactly the way you'd expect a comedy, even one about such a potentially weighty subject, to begin tickling your funny bone. What they're essentially saying is that there's a 54% chance that the humor and bittersweet moments are going to hit like a punch in the gut from personal experience, while everyone else will see it as an extended sitcom with a great cast that's always good for a few laughs.
When we first meet Carter (Adam Scott), not long after the opening stat has been teed up, it's at his 9th birthday party and just as he's about to blow out the candles, the festivities are interrupted by his parents who are busy shouting verbal abuses at one another so vulgar they'd make a sailor blush. Now an adult child of divorce, Carter thinks he's got everything figured out and has escaped his parents' hellish divorce emotionally unscathed. He's got a great girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who loves him, and he has a pretty good relationship with his younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke), who was too young to remember how awful things used to be. But is Carter as stable as he thinks he is?
The truth comes rushing at him when Trey announces his upcoming wedding, and it's up to Carter to reunite his long-divorced, warring parents for the weekend. Comedic heavyweights Richard Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara are riotously funny as Carter's childish parents, Hugh and Melissa. Hugh's a horn dog who married an angry young trophy wife (Amy Poehler), while Melissa has settled for someone stable and boring. They haven't seen one another in twenty years, and when Carter tries to get them back together for the wedding....well, crap hits the fan in terrible and often hilarious ways.
We've seen the "warring parents at a wedding" many times before, and even with a cast of funny people as strong as this, it's still overly familiar. However it takes on new and fresher territory with the introduction of Jane Lynch as Dr. Judith, who Carter believes was his childhood therapist. Turning to her for some guidance, he discovers that she doesn't really have any formal training and was merely using Carter as a subject for her book about children of divorce. The revelation rocks his world and exposes the commitment issues he's been carrying for years. "Do you realize you're the least-parented, least-nurtured generation ever?” Judith asks. Well, yeah, and with parents so disastrous it's a wonder Carter hasn't grown up to be a serial killer or something.
First-time director Stuart Zicharman makes the most out of an extremely talented cast, giving them all just enough time to shine. Frankly, as a director he doesn't show a whole lot but with a so many hilarious people around he can lean on them to do most of the work. The benefit of having actors like Jenkins, O'Hara, Winstead, Lynch, and Scott around is that they can handle the emotional load whether the scene requires for some sitcom antics or a touch of dramatic truth. And there are a few moments of painful insight here that some may find uncomfortable, but the script by Modern Family writer Ben Karlin strives to keep things lighthearted. It makes for an uneven experience, but also an enjoyable one.
Scott has been plugging away as a leading man for a couple of years and he slips into a familiar neurotic role for him. He's practically in every scene and does a solid if unspectacular job, but it's obviously a step down from his fantastic performance in last year's Friends with Kids. Jenkins and O'Hara are great, as one would expect, and they get the film's best lines when spitting daggers at one another. Lynch is also very good as the scholarly, if somewhat incoherent Dr. Judith, spouting her armchair psycho-babble like a poor man's Dr. Phil.
The film wraps up on a hopeful if ambiguous note, but its tonal inconsistencies bleed over to the credits as real people tell real stories of divorce. They play sort of like the closing credit love stories at the end of When Harry Met Sally, only these are a too downbeat and painful to be at all heartwarming. For a film that emphasizes humor to deal with the problems caused by divorce, A.C.O.D. should have heeded its own advice in the end.