Children often seek continuous love, attention and validation from the adults in their lives to confirm their feelings of security and stability while growing up, particularly when their parents decide to divorce and engage in a lengthy custody battle. But as they grow up, and turn into adult children of divorce, they’re the ones who frequently have to offer support to their parents, as their family dynamic changes once again. That constant struggle is the main motivation for the endless fighting and strained relationships in the new comedy, ‘A.C.O.D.,’ from writer Stu Zicherman, who made his feature film directorial debut with the movie.
‘A.C.O.D.’ follows Carter (Adam Scott), a seemingly well-adjusted Adult Child of Divorce, who has survived the zaniness of his parents’ divorce as a child. Striving to prove that he’s nothing like his parents, Carter now has a successful career as a restaurant owner and a supportive girlfriend, Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who feels no need to rush into marriage, even after four years of dating. But when his younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke), gets engaged, it’s up to Carter to reunite his bitterly divorced parents, Hugh and Melissa (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara), for the wedding. The two haven’t spoken to each other in years, as they’re both married to other people-Sondra (Amy Poehler) and Gary (Ken Howard). When Carter seeks counsel from his childhood shrink, Dr. Judith (Jane Lynch), he discovers that his adolescent therapy was part of a divorce study for her best-selling book, and the chaos of his childhood returns.
Scott and Zicherman generously took the time recently to sit down at the Playwright Celtic Pub in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen to talk about shooting the movie. Among other things, the actor and writer-director discussed their differing experiences being adult children of divorce themselves; how the filmmaker feels that audiences will be able to relate to Carter’s continued struggles with his parents’ estranged relationship, even as he makes it his mission to control his family’s behavior; and how easily Carter latches onto Dr. Judith again as an adult, even though she only sees him as a way to help her make more money, as he wants continued validation that he’s matured into a successful adult.
Question (Q): Was it hard keeping a straight face in scenes with Jane Lynch?
Stu Zicherman (SZ): I did a lot of laughing. Being a first-time director you find yourself watching as a fan.
Adam Scott (AS): It got to the point where if I didn’t hear Stu laughing, I thought there was something wrong.
Q: Are you both A.C.O.D.?
AS: Yeah. Luckily, my experience was a very healthy, happy one. My parents split up when I was really little, but for my siblings and I it was a happy childhood. We never saw an argument. It was all very amicable. I wouldn’t have been able to write the script because, well, first of all, I’m not a writer. (laughs)
Q: What did you initially think of the script?
AS: That it would be the divorce movie to end all divorce movies. I felt like if there was such a thing as a divorce comedy, this is it.
SZ: Even though Adam had a wildly different experience, I felt like he understood. It was always about keeping a balance. I mean, our character is not suffering from cancer, he wasn’t beaten. His problem was that his parents got divorced. You worry that the audience might say, “Get over it, dude,” and then you’ve lost them. But Carter is on a quest to control these people and maintain sanity.
Q: Why do you both think Dr. Judith’s book about children of divorce is so popular?
AS: There’s a market for everything. If you can find a customer for what you’re putting out there, more power to you. I don’t read self-help books and I’m very cynical about stuff like that, but that’s one of my favorite things about the movie. I don’t think Jane’s character, Dr. Judith, cares about helping people.
SZ: When Ben Karlin and I began writing the movie she started out as a therapist character, but we didn’t want her to be just that. In my 20s I went through a terrible breakup with this girl that I was kind of in love with…
AS: Kind of?
SZ: (laughs) Okay, I was gutted. So, I bought this book about getting over a loved one. I started reading it and I was like 100 pages in when I realized it was about being widowed.
Q: What happened in your childhood?
SZ: When I was 11, every single family in my suburban neighborhood was getting divorced. My parents sat me down and said, “We’ll never get divorced. We promise.” One year later, my dad moved out.
Q: How do you view the relationship between Carter and Dr. Judith?
SZ: I love that Carter is searching for an answer. He’ll latch onto anything, but when Dr. Judith opens her door and there’s Carter she just sees dollar signs.
You know, I talk to a lot of people about scripts, and I have to say I’m really tired of the portrayal of men in America. I’m tired of the films with guys in their 30s and 40s, talking about sex and smoking pot. That’s not my experience about being an adult man. People I know are struggling with their demons and trying to be successful. I don’t feel like men in the movies need to be stupid anymore.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can discuss?
SZ: I’m writing a movie with Steve Martin. I’m also working on the FX show ‘The Americans.’
AS: I’m shooting ‘Parks and Recreation’ right now. I’m also in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which comes out on Christmas. I’m also in an Oscar movie for next year, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2,’ in which I play a character from the future.
Watch the full video with Scott and Zicherman on YouTube.