We who are fortunate to be parents love our role for the most part, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we’ve all had moments, however brief, where we wonder why we got into this. Sleep-deprived, financially stressed, and lacking opportunities for intimate contact with our partners, romance is often put on hold while a family adjusts to the arrival of its newest members. Friends with Kids is a nicely effective comedy-drama that looks at this from a different angle.
Platonic best friends Julie and Jason (Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott) both want children, but having no current partners, and mortified at what kids seem to have done to their friends’ marriages, they make an unconventional decision. They’ll conceive a child between themselves and then co-parent, leaving them both free to pursue romance with people outside the equation.
The friends (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm), of course, think this is a terrible idea, but they have enough problems of their own, and agree to support the couple. What follows is an emotional roller coaster ride as both Julie and Jason find their “perfect” people, but can’t escape the feelings formed by parental bonding.
It’s easy to dismiss all of these characters as yet more self-obsessed cinematic New Yorkers, but as the story progresses, the script and direction by star Westfeldt begin to reveal more layers, which draws us in. This is completely fitting, since such major life events do tend to change us all, for better or worse.
The presence of no less than four stars from last year’s Bridesmaids is being exploited in the advertising to imply that Friends with Kids is another wild comedy, but that’s false. There are laughs here, but they eventually taper off, and the last third of the film is pure drama. It’s a slightly uneven tone, but the story remains involving.
The Bridesmaids crew also get far less screen time than you’d expect. What a nice surprise, however, to see actors well-known for comedy play it straight so well. Wiig is especially good playing opposite Hamm, who with his years of Mad Men experience has his own lock on playing inwardly desperate people. Even Megan Fox and Edward Burns manage to make something slightly more of the calculated roles they’re forced into.
The leads are unfortunately weaker, but not enough to torpedo the whole thing. Westfeldt’s performance is a bit too earnest for my taste, but I suppose that’s her right as the creator of this project. On the other hand, Scott seems a little disengaged, but great writing saves him in the scenes where he’s supposed to be emotional.
I liked O’Dowd’s character, Alex, best. A sloppy, clueless, shaggy dog of a guy, he ends up saying the most about why we stay in relationships that seem to have lost their spark, without even necessarily saying anything at all. It’s important balance for a film that’s often quite down on marriage with children.
Overall, Friends with Kids might be a good movie for a couple’s night out, without the kids. It will at least get you talking. Romance optional.
Tags: movie review