In the new comedy A.C.O.D., uptight restaurateur Adam Scott is forced to foster an uneasy peace between his divorced parents, who despise each other so deeply that neither is willing to attend a wedding to which the other is invited. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Scott suffered through a nearly identical dilemma on a year-old episode of the NBC sitcom Parks And Recreation. Coincidental as the plot overlap may be, it underlines how perfectly equipped the actor is to play the beleaguered product of a broken marriage. (The movie’s title is an acronym for Adult Children Of Divorce, a vast group that includes this reviewer.) Like Parks paramour Ben Wyatt, the hero here only looks put-together; in his lifelong attempts to stay above the fray—and to be totally unlike his bickering folks—he’s learned to mask his deep anxieties with a veneer of composure. Anyone who’s ever been torn between warring parental factions, and taught themselves how to diplomatically occupy the middle ground, may relate.
As it turns out, Scott’s neurotic fluster is easily the best thing about A.C.O.D., which seems stranded on a different middle ground: It’s too broad to qualify as incisive, too mild to rise above the level of amusing. (There are more laughs in the 22 minutes of that Parks And Recreation episode than the 90 minutes of this movie, though that may say more about the sublimity of the former than the averageness of the latter.) In the process of talking parents Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara into attending the wedding of their younger son (Clark Duke), Scott discovers that, as a grade-schooler, he was an unwitting subject of a psychological study—one conducted by non-trained researcher Jane Lynch, who shaped her findings into a bestselling book about children of divorce. Not as well-adjusted as he always assumed he was, Scott soon spirals into an existential crisis and jeopardizes his relationship with girlfriend Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Meanwhile, his efforts to negotiate a familial ceasefire work all too well: For an A.C.O.D., what could be more traumatic than catching long-separated ’rents rekindling the flame?
Speaking of the divorcees, Jenkins and O’Hara develop a convincing love-hate rapport, lacing even their reconciliatory moments with War Of The Roses venom. Casting is half the battle in a conversational comedy, so it helps that director/co-writer Stu Zicherman has skillfully filled even the smaller roles. (The strong ensemble also includes Ken Howard, as O’Hara’s good-natured fella, and Jessica Alba, as another grown participant of Lynch’s study.) Yet A.C.O.D. doesn’t quite do its game participants proud; it’s too tidy, reducing Scott’s battle with his rocky family history to sitcom lessons. A farcical climax, in which the characters all collide at one location, feels like the easiest possible exit strategy. It does, however, offer the opportunity to see Scott and TV wife Amy Poehler—improbably cast as an icy stepmother—flip their affection into contempt. If that doesn’t do it for Parks fans, maybe they can take solace in the reminder, provided here, that the best American comedy is happening not on the large screen, but the small one.