Sundance: …’A.C.O.D.’ is the comedy that Adam Scott Fans Have Been Waiting For

Adam Scott has a highly controlled, almost overly impeccable charisma. Handsome, with small facial features that make him look like the son of Liberace, he’s a very regulated personality, with a witty, cut-and-dried, hiply downcast delivery that, on screen, can often turn him into a unit unto himself. (He’d be perfect in a Whit Stillman film, or as Sheldon’s older brother on The Big Bang Theory.) Scott is a caustically funny and winning actor, yet there’s something almost preternaturally detached about him, which is why he’s so ideally cast in A.C.O.D. (The title stands for “adult children of divorce.”) He plays Carter, who has spent his whole life trying to crawl out from under the wreckage of his parents’ hateful, ugly divorce. In a huge counterreaction to their savagely childish bickering, he moves forward with extreme caution, and is honorable and upstanding. He owns a restaurant, has a devoted girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and also a happy blob of a little brother (Clark Duke), whom he helps support. He lives responsibly, without any visible problems. As it turns out, that’s his whole problem.

A.C.O.D. is a bubbly-smart romantic comedy with a new subject: the generation of kids who grew up with divorced parents, and therefore found no stigma in that situation, but who had to do so much precocious, faux-parental managing that it did a mind-game number on their emotional lives. Carter is an expert at managing his own life; he’s just not so great at letting go and living it. When his bro announces that he’s getting married, it means that their parents, who haven’t spoken in 20 years, are going to have to be brought together, at least for a little while. This, of course, is Carter’s job, and it takes him where he doesn’t want to go: into the messiness of how he grew up. The parents are played by Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara, who pelt each other with amusingly below-the-belt insults that just get lower and lower; they square off and fight like two scraggly old jungle cats. But then their angry reunion takes a twist, rekindling their relationship. The smartest thing that the director, Stuart Zicherman, did was to keep this ha-ha situation in the background, and to foreground Carter’s relationship with his old therapist (Jane Lynch), who wrote a book-length study of him and several other children of divorce, and is now planning the sequel, about how those former kids are faring as adults. Lynch, less farcical than usual, speaks hilarious truths in her lightly hostile way. So does the movie. A.C.O.D. is like some wild and woolly French family drama that hums along in fast motion. The film sprawls, at times a bit too much, but it gives Adam Scott his punchiest big-screen role yet.