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'A.C.O.D.' review: Much funnier than a movie about a cod

*** (out of four)

It’s really weird to see Adam Scott and Amy Poehler, who are spouses Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope on NBC’s awesome “Parks and Recreation,” playing a man and the stepmom he hates in “A.C.O.D.” On his phone, she’s identified as the Contessa, except with a “u” in place of the second letter.

However, it’s good to see Scott headlining a movie, particularly one that effectively uses his signature blend of cluelessness and arrogance. He’s mastered the face of mild annoyance that things clear to him aren’t clear to others. In the funny “A.C.O.D.” (which stands for Adult Children of Divorce), one thing is very clear to Carter (Scott): His divorced parents Hugh (Illinois native Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara) can’t stand each other. Since arguing so viciously at his birthday party that the cops came, mom and dad have, as Carter puts it, turned a nine-year marriage into a 100-year war. Thus, it’s a large undertaking when the guy tries to increase his folks’ civility so they can attend his younger brother Trey’s (Clark Duke) wedding without an international incident.

Though the unexpected rekindling of Hugh and Melissa’s relationship (which means cheating on their current spouses) unfortunately recalls “It’s Complicated,” it also achieves a winning irony when Carter strives to re-separate them. Just when director/co-writer Stu Zicherman seems to let his first feature drift into disposability or zaniness, the film’s fine cast (which also includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Carter’s girlfriend and Jane Lynch as a researcher who has long studied Carter) captures pain and humor to bring it all back. I loved when Mark (Adam Pally), also under observation by Dr. Judith (Lynch), confesses details about his personal life and she asks, “What does this have to do with anything?” Zicherman even gets decent stuff from Jessica Alba as another Dr. Judith patient whose looks unsurprisingly wind up playing a factor in Carter’s life.

This is Scott’s story to carry, though, and despite the movie’s relative lightness he deserves credit for finding a deeper sense that kids of divorce often lose their innocence too soon. That’s what sparks a lifetime of insecurity and skittishness about commitment, and it’s what makes Carter avoid his parents around the holidays by falsely telling them he’s doing charity work in Honduras.

For this guy, for whom time with parents only brings back painful memories, it’s a hilarious moment of catharsis when he finally admits to them, “FYI: I’ve never been to Honduras.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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