The title of “A.C.O.D.” stands for “Adult Children of Divorce,” apparently a subject that director and co-writer Stu Zicherman knows all too well. He also, thankfully, has enough distance on it to keep his movie lightly knowing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny while acknowledging the real pain a grown man can experience when dealing with parents who act like squabbling children.
Adam Scott, that ubiquitous human cartoon of a leading man (“Friends With Children,” TV’s “Parks and Recreation”), stars as Carter, a successful Atlanta restaurateur whose childhood traumas surrounding his parents’ bitter divorce are behind him. He thinks. When younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) gets engaged to his girlfriend (Valerie Tian), Carter has to man up and convince dad Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and mom Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) to both attend the ceremony.
OK, stop right there. Any movie that puts two great character actors like beady-eyed Jenkins and crazy-eyed O’Hara in the same movie, let alone the same scene, is worth your time. “A.C.O.D.” is no big deal in the grand scheme of things — a little messy, a lot predictable, a few too many jokes that land on the sitcom end of the spectrum — but it has a cast of pro farceurs who put a spin on almost everything they do. That would include Amy Poehler as dad’s second (or third) trophy wife and Jane Lynch of “Glee” as Carter’s once and future therapist, who turns out to have gotten a best-selling self-help book out of her patient’s adolescent crisis.
Even Jessica Alba works a few pointed chuckles out of her small role as one of Carter’s fellow subjects. “A.C.O.D.” knows that the damage done to children by toxically self-absorbed parents has a long, long tail and the more the hero tries to rise above it all and be a paragon of maturity, the more trapped he is in old resentments. As the hero’s easygoing girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has the thankless task of being the movie’s beacon of common sense; she and we wait patiently for Carter to figure it all out in time for the end credits.
Scott’s probably the perfect actor for this, since he’s too likably lightweight to suggest any emotion more crippling than exasperation. The best, most acridly funny scenes in “A.C.O.D.” have to do with Carter’s battling parents learning that the line between love and hate is thinner than they remembered, and Jenkins and O’Hara dive into their roles with shameless exhibitionist gusto. You may find yourself wishing the movie were all about them, but I guess that’s been their son’s problem since day one.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.