Adam Scott in A.C.O.D.
Nate von Zumwalt
Stu Zicherman recalls his parents’ divorce with a nostalgia that belies all that we’re conditioned to believe about failed marriages. And even though he wavers when using terms like “levity” and “hilarious” to define his childhood experience, his candor tends to prevail.
Perhaps that’s why Zicherman, who penned and directed A.C.O.D., an acronym for “adult children of divorce,” was as apt and equipped as anyone to introduce a film with a smart but comedic—and still as cynical as ever—take on the delicate subject.
Zicherman took a moment recently to share his unique experience premiering A.C.O.D. at the Sundance Film Festival last January and his flair for internalizing misfortune with a heaping dose of humor.
You premiered A.C.O.D. at the Festival in Park City earlier this year. How would you describe the film’s reception?
I know you can say something like, “Outside the birth of my children, Sundance was the best day of my life,” but it might even beat the birth of my children. I’m joking! The experience in January was epic. I had high expectations, but the actual first screening night was so overwhelming, and I had never seen the movie in a big room like that—we premiered at the Eccles. It was just great, and it played funny.
The best of it was that it started a big conversation about people’s stories of divorce and the legacy of divorce and how people’s experiences as kids really informed them as adults. Everywhere I went in town, on the buses or walking the street, people would come up to me and say, “I’m an A.C.O.D., and my parents got divorced when I was 10,” and I’m like, “Cool!”
You worked with a cast that offers some comedic diversity, from Adam Scott and Amy Poehler to Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara. Can you share a bit about what they bring to this film?
I think, first off, they bring so much credibility. We tried really hard to cast people who were funny but could also do things besides be funny. We wanted actors whom people like to watch, but that they also believe. Richard Jenkins has not done a part like this since Flirting with Disaster. But it really starts with Adam, because I just find him so believable. His cynicism about life can be really believable and relatable. We shot the movie in 24 days, so we didn’t have a tone of time to do a ton of improv, but when we did, the stuff that comes out of their mouths is genius.
You’ve mentioned that you’re a child of divorce. What went into the decision to take a comedic approach to both your personal experience and this larger epidemic of marital failure?
I remember as a kid seeing Kramer vs. Kramer and movies like that, and they were really sad. My parents’ divorce was not like that—there were definitely sad moments, but there was some levity to it. I was the only child, so my mom and dad would talk to me about everything, and they would say things to me that were completely inappropriate. There were times when I literally would laugh at stuff. And there were moments that were originally in the script that were from my life, that no one believed, so we had to take them out.
As you grow up and become an adult, you get to a place when you realize you’re past that. But then you start getting into your own relationships and you start fucking up your own relationships because you realize you’re terrified of marriage and have no example of marriage. So I did want to make a divorce comedy, which no one had ever made before. It does make you laugh; it makes you think about your own plight.