With so many syndromes (ADD), bureaucratic agencies (USDA) and metrics (OPS) commonly referred to by acronym, it seems only appropriate that adult children of divorce (ACOD) merit the same level of recognition. After all, more than one out of two marriages end long before death do they part. Stuart Zicherman channeled his experience of being trapped between warring ex-spouses in the new film A.C.O.D., which he directed and co-wrote. (It opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles.) In A.C.O.D., Carter (Adam Scott) has to bring his long-split parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins) back together for his younger brother’s wedding. Playboy talked to Zicherman, who also writes for the FX series The Americans, about his battle wounds from his parents’ divorce, what was funny about their parting and how he hopes to make people laugh about a topic that generally inspires tears.
PLAYBOY: Part of A.C.O.D.’s premise is that because divorce is filled with such obstinacy, it’s also full of funny moments, especially in hindsight. Your parents divorced when you were 12 years old. Did it ever seem funny at the time?
ZICHERMAN: It was sad and tragic for all the obvious reasons, but I do remember moments that were irreverent and just weird. For instance, a couple of months after my dad moved out, my mom sat me down and said, “Listen, I need to talk to you. I don’t want you to be upset, but tonight I’m going on a date with a black man.”
My dad had his moments too. He and my mom weren’t talking when my sister was getting married. My dad was paying for the wedding and had decided to allow my mom to bring three guests. Through me, my mom said, “My cousin Sharon is having a hysterectomy two days before the wedding and won’t come, but I don’t want to insult her so your father should send her an invitation.” My dad ends up sending the invitation and, of course, Sharon decides she can make it after all. My dad was furious: “Your mother tricked me! It’s a conspiracy! Your mother had Sharon move her hysterectomy!” I put it in the script, and no one believed it had really happened.
PLAYBOY: The final credits of A.C.O.D. offer an interesting snapshot of the crew’s family histories. Did you base the movie purely on personal recollection, or did you combine many different people’s stories?
ZICHERMAN: Both. Divorce is one of those subjects about which people are eager to share their experience with you. My main goal, though, was to give people a license to laugh about it. I grew up on Kramer vs. Kramer, which is sad. I saw it just before my parents got divorced and I remember thinking, God, I never want to go through that. I made A.C.O.D. because I felt like there was a hole in the world of movies about coming from divorced parents and having no role models when it came to love.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever consult any of the endless self-help books about the children of divorce?
ZICHERMAN: I’m 44, so they hadn’t been written at the time, but when I read them while researching the film I saw a lot of myself in them. They basically said, as adults, the kids of divorce react in one of two ways: They either get married early in an attempt to prove they can do better, or they wait a long time to get married because they’re terrified of commitment. I went through both phases. At 23, I was living with someone I thought I was going to marry—before I realized it was a terrible idea. And at 38, I finally married for the first time.
PLAYBOY: One of the more relatable aspects of A.C.O.D. is its depiction of certain family relationships as weather patterns, more or less, as when Adam Scott’s character says, “We’re in a period of real calm here.”
ZICHERMAN: A lot of kids from the first wave of divorced parents are controlling. They feel like they have to pull strings at all times to keep the peace. My parents have been divorced for more than 30 years, and I still do this thing where if I had dinner with my dad and my mom calls and asks what I’m doing, I say, “I’m out with some friends.” Which is the same thing I did when I was 15 years old. It’s not my job, but it’s almost built into my DNA.
PLAYBOY: We all go through a time when we learn that our parents are actually people. Has your perception of your parents’ divorce changed as you’ve come to see it as the divorce of two people and not just your parents?
ZICHERMAN: A little. I used to be one of those people who couldn’t tell you what brought my parents together in the first place. But as I got older and as their relationship improved, I realized they made each other laugh. That allowed them to have fun together, even though they were completely wrong for each other.
Brent Simon is a film critic and writer in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in Screen Daily, Yahoo Movies, New York Magazine's Vulture, Paste, the Los Angeles Daily News and many other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @SharedDarkness.
Photo courtesy of Adult Children of Divorce