Halfway through A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce), Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is referenced. Wilde’s satirical farce, which reveals the venality and hollowness of the upper class in their pursuit of values they can’t even recognize, is so wickedly funny that even if you can’t quite grasp the subtleties of his language, you can’t help but laugh at the tone. What’s sad is that A.C.O.D. alludes to this comedy, but can’t be bothered to do anything remotely funny. For a movie whose premise is ripe with opportunity for satire, it plays more like a drama dressed up as a comedy.
The film follows a neurotic guy named Carter (Adam Scott) whose entire life has been messed up by his narcissistic parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara). When Carter’s brother (Clarke Duke) announces his engagement, Carter finds his world turned upside-down. He seeks the help of a former therapist (Jane Lynch), whom he discovers wasn’t a therapist at all, but a researcher who documented his childhood in a book called Children of Divorce. And when his efforts to create a civil relationship between his parents creates an even bigger, more unexpected problem, Carter is forced to face his psychological issues head-on.
Director Stu Zicherman really wants us to laugh at Carter’s pain. He wants us to laugh at his oblivious parents, whose me-first mentality constantly screws over their level-headed son. He wants us to enjoy Jane Lynch’s unorthodox research questions. But the movie never connects with the funny bone. It’s like Zicherman and co-writer Ben Karlin watched the TV series Arrested Development and thought they could make something like that for the big screen, but with more pathos. But the reason Arrested Development worked is exactly what is missing from A.C.O.D.: absurdity.
Everything the characters in A.C.O.D. do makes perfect sense. It’s completely logical. When Carter’s parents start up a torrid affair and use Carter as a go-between, no one would say that’s crazy. When Carter tries reasoning with his parents, and they turn his words around to make him look like the heel, it plays as tragedy. Part of good comedy is blowing situations out of proportion and testing their elasticity, or throwing in some awkward element that functions like a bomb, shaking up the status quo. As I watched this movie, I spent most of its short running time (88 minutes) cringing and wondering how many people would watch see their own families without a shred of irony.
It’s sad to watch a comedy that would function better as drama.
* Not only is the movie unfunny on a situational level, but there wasn’t even one memorable line of dialogue. This script has no one-liners. Its symbols lack humor, too. For example, Carter, who owns a restaurant, calls the place Whitegrass. One would hope the name might create some funny dialogue, or even a humorous reveal of its origin. But, no, its name is based on a detail born directly out of Carter’s awful childhood. Fail.
*What a waste of great comedic talent. Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch, Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Amy Poehler, Clarke Duke. This is a terrific cast, and it sucks that each is given nothing interesting to do – unless you consider seeing Jenkins’ old man ass during sex interesting.
* The casting of Jessica Alba as another child of divorce was intriguing, but the movie does nothing with her. Her storyline is dropped; nothing consequential happens because of her involvement. She is a shadow character.