Friends With Kids
Written and Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, and Ed Burns
Running Time of 107 Minutes
Rated R for sexual content and language
In her first film as a director, Jennifer Westfeldt (writer/star of Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby) continues to explore ways in which we can take a unique approach to the traditional romantic relationship. Like both Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby before it, Friends With Kids exists both as an affront to the normal ways of the romantic comedy while also existing firmly within that genre. Even if Friends With Kids has a foul mouth and a rebellious, wayward approach that feels more like a female take on Woody Allen as opposed to the new film starring Katherine Heigl, it is the same trappings of the romantic comedy that hinder it from breaking out into a comfortable place of its own.
Jason, the wonderful Adam Scott in his first, richly deserved leading film role and Julie (Westfeldt) basically decide to forgo all of the romance and “tragedy” of marriage and have a kid as friends. If that sounds like a synopsis for a sitcom, you wouldn’t necessarily be too far off. Although Westfeldt attempts to build moments of truth and wit into her screenplay, the impetus for Jason and Julie’s decision is their observation of the horrible marriages of their friends. Portrayed in two couples by Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s long-time boyfriend) & Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd & Maya Rudolph (all 4 of whom appear in Bridesmaids), these four characters are shrill, mean caricatures of humans who constantly yell at each other in hateful, demeaning ways. We are supposed to believe, if Jason and Julie are right (and being that they are the main characters the film wants us to think they are right) that because these couples are attempting to juggle marriage and kids, they have devolved into these awful creatures. The film suggests that it is perhaps impossible to have a successful marriage with kids, and at times even the couples themselves hint that they agree with this. This is a thin and unfortunate setup for a film that attempts to set itself apart from the pack, and it makes it difficult for the audience to actually like any of these characters.
It helps, though, quite a bit, that Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph, and O’Dowd are all such winning performers with a well-worn chemistry and a believability as friends. When the film cuts the rubbish and allows these actors and characters to exist in the real world, there are some lovely moments of humor and insight. Jon Hamm has tirelessly proven that he is a hilarious man outside of his work on Mad Men, and in the film’s second half he has some strong moments that belong in a better film. When the film does work well, though, it is mostly thanks to Adam Scott. Scott has cut his teeth for years in smaller roles in films and has recently made a name for himself in television, and he is wonderful at playing quiet, awkward moments that suggest great humanity and humor. Westfeldt was smart to pair herself with such a subtle actor because as a director she is unable to restrain her worst, piercing tendencies.
Friends With Kids is at its best when it allows the chemistry of its actors and the smaller moments to shine, and the cast is so overstuffed with talented people that there are a lot of these moments. At its worst it devolves into a mediocre, overwrought romantic comedy, complete with the “other” man and woman who are almost too perfect to believe, portrayed by Megan Fox and Ed Burns. If Westfeldt, a plain and unremarkable director, had truly stuck to her guns and actually analyzed the type of alternative relationship that she finds so interesting, this could have been a very special film. Instead she seems to be comfortable allowing the film to coast right down the middle, and unfortunately that is exactly what she ends up with. This cast deserves far better.