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A.C.O.D. Reviews

While movies about dysfunctional families are now so prevalent that they’re arguably a genre unto themselves, Stuart Zicherman’s debut feature <I>A.C.O.D.</I> scores points by immediately detailing its demented family dynamics and not relying on a third-act revelation to explain why people who once loved each other could treat one another so terribly.<P><P> Adam Scott stars as Carter, a successful restaurateur whose divorced parents, Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara), haven’t spoken in nearly a decade. Carter was always the peacemaker in the family, and his soon-to-be-married younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) wants him to use his diplomatic skills to convince their parents to attend the wedding without tearing each other to shreds or embarrassing themselves. When Carter’s efforts bring about consequences he could not have imagined, he must come face-to-face with his own never-resolved issues, including his reluctance to get engaged to his longtime girlfriend Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).<P><P> While there may not be anything psychologically revelatory in the script by Zicherman and Ben Karlin, it is a solidly constructed portrait of how the aftereffects of a particularly bitter divorce stick with someone through their whole lives. Adam Scott is quite good in the lead role, and never makes Carter’s control-freak tendencies seem cartoonish -- it’s a natural part of his personality, not a quirk.<P><P> The whole cast are solid, which should be expected when you have actors as strong as Jenkins and O’Hara playing exes who despise each other. While the film gets laughs from their remarkably unsubtle jabs at each other, these are sensitive actors who never let us forget that, for all the couple’s problems, they are genuinely and inexplicably drawn to each other. Throw in a humorous turn from Amy Poehler as Hugh’s no-nonsense third wife, a dose of undiluted warmth and gentleness from Ken Howard as Melissa’s current husband, and some manipulative shenanigans from Jane Lynch as a scientist who wrote a book about Carter when he was a child and has a desire to craft a follow-up, and what you get is a first-rate ensemble cast who bring out the best in this material.<P><P> The movie isn’t afraid of getting laughs, but it’s sensitive enough to take the pain these characters carry with them seriously. The tone is established in the opening scene -- an old family film of Carter’s parents screaming incredibly inappropriate things at each other while he’s preparing to blow out the candles on his ninth birthday cake. Like the rest of the movie, this scene doesn’t wring laughs out of embarrassment, even though it would be easy to let Jenkins and O’Hara have at it while Scott squirmed. Zicherman’s approach is laudable, and by playing for reality instead of mockery, he and the uniformly smart cast find the truth in the lives of characters who have spent decades lying to each other and themselves.