Monday, November 28, 2016

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mary Elizabeth Winstead! We Check Out The Underrated A.C.O.D.!

The Good: Decent performances, Interesting characters, Realistic character arcs, Some very funny lines
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot, Spread thin on analysis
The Basics: A.C.O.D. is an engaging and very funny exploration of the effects marriage and divorce have had on U.S. culture.

It seems that almost every day that a celebrity death is announced of a beloved actor, musical artist or director (I have no idea how to write a tribute to Fritz Weaver!) and it is hard to escape the conclusion that 2016 has just flat-out sucked in that regard. Rather than focus on the endless parade of celebrity deaths today, though, I thought I would try to celebrate something good. As it turns out, today is Mary Elizabeth Winstead's birthday (Happy Birthday!!!!) and I just finished watching the film A.C.O.D., an underrated independent comedy in which Winstead has a disturbingly under-credited role.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an actress on the rise who has slowly been getting more and more featured roles in works as directors come to understand that she has range and impressive acting abilities. She recently led the cast of 10 Cloverfield Lane (reviewed here!) and it is tough to believe that there could be a young actress who could so effectively steal the spotlight from John Goodman, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead does it! A.C.O.D. features Winstead in the supporting role of Lauren, the girlfriend of the protagonist and while there are problems with Lauren in the film, none of them have to do with how Mary Elizabeth Winstead performs the character. From the way that Lauren is introduced - with a deadpan mockery of Carter intended to freak him out - to her character never explicitly saying on-screen that her parents' long marriage intimidates her (a subtext which Winstead acts the hell out of throughout the film!), a surprising number of issued in A.C.O.D. and the way its themes are executed surround Lauren. And yet, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the part that was written incredibly well and continues to draw the eye with her on-screen presence.

Carter is in his thirties, a survivor of his parents' rather brutal divorce and the various remarriages that gave him a presence in assorted blended families growing up. After successfully keeping his parents completely apart for twenty years, his younger brother Trey decides to get married and Trey wants both Hugh and Melissa at the wedding. After approaching his mother and his father, Carter discovers exactly what he suspected remains true: Hugh and Melissa still have so much animosity and fury between them that they cannot be in the same place together without destroying the event. To try to figure out a way to make Trey's wedding wish come true, Carter turns to Dr. Judith, a woman he thought was his therapist during the divorce. But Dr. Judith was a researcher and Carter's time with her was fodder for her book C.O.D. (Children Of Divorce). Carter tracks down the bestselling book on divorce and reads it, quickly recognizing which character in the book was him.

Attempting to reject Dr. Judith's character analysis of his faults, Carter manipulated Hugh and Michelle into meeting in a public place to discuss Trey's wedding and bury the hatchet enough so they might be civil to one another for the event. Carter's peacekeeping gesture backfires, however, when Hugh and Melissa begin having an affair on their respective spouses with one another. His life in a tailspin, Carter tries desperately to protect Trey and his step-parents from the truth, keep his business afloat and his relationship solid, all the while Dr. Judith hounds him for follow-up research for a sequel to her original book.

A.C.O.D. is a surprisingly underrated comedy that hits most of the right notes with its hilarious lines and uncomfortable moments that make humor out of people treating one another badly. Opening with Hugh and Melissa screaming at one another through Carter's ninth birthday party at the beach house, A.C.O.D. makes an art form out of realistic uncomfortable incidents. The film is complicated and smart even as it evokes grimmaces, most notably in a scene where Carter's family sits down for a meet and greet with Kieko's (the bride's) family and Carter starts to assert himself.

Adam Scott plays Carter in A.C.O.D. and the film continues to showcase that the actor has genuine range. Long before it is made explicit, Scott plays Carter as a man desperately attempting to keep things together, Carter is a man acting like everything is okay and that he has overcome his childhood modeling. An actor playing a character who is (unconsciously) acting himself is a difficult part to pull off, but Scott does so. Just as Mary Elizabeth Winstead infuses the scene outside her parents' anniversary dinner with subtext for what is going through Lauren's head, Scott infuses key scenes with miniscule physical tells that indicate his character is still wrestling with the past on a daily basis.

A.C.O.D. is one of those films that can be used by those who have been through such things as a way to enlighten those not in-the-know to a condition, but for adult children of incredibly messy and acrimonious divorces, A.C.O.D. is more predictable than it is revelatory. Dr. Judith is a user, Carter is the negotiator he is pegged in the book for being and Melissa is an embittered ex-wife who feels like she settled when the man she wanted in her life turned out to be a cheating jerk. Cycles repeat; characters who think they are aware of all of their button issues fall into bling spots. And cycles repeat. Watching A.C.O.D. together highlighted the predictibility of such things for survivors when my wife shouted out "flying monkeys!" when Gary (Melissa's new husband) tries to give Trey a check for the wedding. Survivors who are metaconscious will see much of what happens in A.C.O.D. coming.

Despite that, A.C.O.D. is very funny and makes some important statements. The cast - main and supporting - is amazing, though the parts are definitely skewed toward giving veteran actors like Richard Jenkins (Hugh), Catherine O'Hara (Melissa) and Jane Lynch (Dr. Judith) more to play with than some of the younger cast. Clark Duke, for example, is given incredibly little to play with and Amy Poehler's supporting role is given important hints of depth but not enough time to grow and develop on-screen as a truly compelling character.

Ultimately, A.C.O.D. is a solid, if occasionally unsettling, film that is well worth watching and successfully tackles its subject matter with realism and humor.

For other works with Adam Scott, please visit my reviews of:
My Blind Brother
Friends With Kids
Piranha 3D
Leap Year
Step Brothers
Star Trek: First Contact


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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