Friends with Kids
Baby Boomers: Friends With Kids explores the changing nature of friendship when offspring enter the picture.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Jennifer Westfeldt, the writer, producer and actress best known for her 2001 indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, makes her directorial debut with another engaging but uneven romantic comedy, Friends With Kids. It is the third in a trilogy of sorts: Kissing Jessica Stein looked at what it takes to have a relationship, 2006’s Ira and Abby was a treatise on marriage, and this latest film rounds it out by adding children to the mix. As usual, Westfeldt also penned the script, and produced, this time alongside her partner-in-all-things (except children, so far), Jon Hamm, Mad Men’s Don Draper.
The idea grew out of the couple’s own experience watching friends disappear into parenthood. Westfeldt stars with Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott as a couple of well-heeled, platonic best friends, thirty-somethings Julie and Jason. While they live in stylish apartments on different floors of the same Manhattan high-rise, their circle of friends, two married couples, have reproduced, moved to Brooklyn and turned into stroller-pushing shells of their former savvy selves. Marriage holds no interest for our pair, but they do want kids, so they decide to have a child and raise him together yet apart, without all the messiness of matrimony. They can still date! What can go wrong?
It’s an entertaining premise and the film gets it right some of the time, but not all. In the first half, the friends’ altered lifestyles and the new-parent mishaps keep the comedy and the story tripping along nicely. As singles, Julie and Jason arrange to arrive ridiculously late to a party in the dreaded Brooklyn, recognizing that any home with kids is perpetually behind schedule and probably smells of dirty diapers; later, their friends doubt that the pair of new co-parents can manage to both have a child and – gasp – host a normal grown-up get-together in Manhattan.
All the while, a more thoughtful and nuanced idea is brewing: It turns out that having a child can be more than the sum of its parts, and creating a family can itself create attachment, even passion, like an arranged marriage that grows into true love. But after cleverly building to this revelation, the film retreats back into the world of friends with benefits and the illusive search for sexual attraction and romantic love. As a result, the film loses its way, lured into the fringes of Judd Apatow’s raunchy comedy universe and away from Westfeldt’s natural habitat, which is closer to Woody Allen’s world of neurotics and flawed intellectual urbanites.
Westfeldt shows a knack for directing actors in the unforced camaraderie of her cast. She assembled a notable supporting company, most of them fresh from the acclaimed Bridesmaids: Hamm, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd play the married friends. In an approach we haven’t seen from her before, Wiig gives an understated, even dark portrayal of a disappointed wife. O’Dowd, as a lovable goof of a husband, is all open-faced and engaging and his are among the best and most natural moments of the film. The way he and Rudolf react to the news that Julie and Jason are to become parents is both realistic and very funny. Of the four, only Hamm is slightly mannered and predictable. Megan Fox is fine, if mostly forgettable, as Jason’s bendy dancer girlfriend, while Ed Burns is perfectly cast as the voice of mature adulthood, Julie’s new love interest.
Westfeldt and Scott have an ease with each other that works well, hampered only by the kind of blandness that comes with TV acting. The pair are attractive, likeable and agreeable, but you long for the likes of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant (not to mention Cary Grant and Irene Dunne).
For all its flaws, though, Friends With Kids is mostly enjoyable. Romantic comedies are either well-rounded stories with interesting characters to root for, or they are high concept fluff. Sometimes, a flawed attempt at the former, like Friends With Kids, is better than a successful version of the latter.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS (2½) • Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt • Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd • Rated R • 107 min • At Osio Cinemas