A film review by Craig J. Koban March 20, 2012


2012, R, 100 mins.


Jason: Adam Scott / Julie: Jennifer Westfeldt / Ben: Jon Hamm / Missy: Kristen Wiig / Leslie: Maya Rudolph / Alex: Chris O'Dowd / Mary: Jane Megan Fox / Kurt: Edward Burns

Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS is a new indie romantic dramedy that has sharply articulated and fairly genuine performances, fresh and acerbic banter, and contains individual moments that contain sincerity and, at times, a forthright and brutal truth about them.

Yet, the main problem with writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt's directorial debut effort (after previously co-writing and staring in KISSING JESSICA STEIN) is that all of these noteworthy elements are done an ultimate disservice by being placed within a mournfully artificial and TV sitcom-worthy screenplay filled with all sorts of contrivances, inevitabilities, and an underlining premise that’s kind of lacking credibility at its core.  It’s sad when a good ensemble of gifted actors is undone by the enormity of the film’s storytelling faults. 

FRIENDS WITH KIDS involves a pair of platonic male and female best friends in their mid-to-late 30’s that are attractive, gamefully employed, financially well off, and generally just enjoying unmarried life to its fullest.  Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) are said buddies that live in the same apartment building and have a way of developing short-lived romantic flings without really devoting themselves to anyone in particular long-term.  They've never really dated one another (some of their dialogue exchanges goes to great lengths to explain – over and over again – that they don’t find each other sexually attractive), yet they seem like an inseparable pair whenever their other friends invite them out to dine on the town.  

Jason and Jules closely know two sets of couples that they share their time with: There is Ben and Missy (John Hamm and Kristen Wiig, who shared many droll scenes together in BRIDESMAIDS) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, two other BRIDESMAIDS alumni) and as time slips by Jason and Jules begin to see changes in their friends when both couples have children.  Ben and Missy were once madly and passionately in love, but it seems that when they became parents the past heat of their relationship has now simmered down to the point where they can’t seem to stand one another.  Brooklynites Leslie and Alex seem a bit emotionally better off, but it too becomes abundantly clear that the ordeal of being parents is having a mighty effect on their marriage.  To Jason and Jules, these two sets of couples from their inner circle once appeared perfect and content, but now they just seemed beaten down by their newfound responsibilities. 



Jason and Jules do love children, mind you, and always seem to profess that they want their own, but time is slipping away from them and they both acknowledge that they do not want to have any part of finding a soul mate, marrying them, having a kid, and then having the spark of that relationship fizzle out into what they think would be an inevitable divorce (to say that they are kind of cold-hearted cynics is an understatement).  So, they both hatch an unusual and endlessly complicated (at least to me and all of their friends) plan: they will make love and impregnate Jules (funny, in this film’s universe, artificial insemination does not exist, but if it did, we would not be granted the film’s awkward and would-be funny sex scene between the pair), have the child, and split all of the personal and financial parenting responsibilities 50/50.  They will not marry one another, but rather be free to date whomever they want on the side.  Their rationale is that they don’t want to end up like their friends, so they skip the nuptials and potential break-up altogether. 

They both engage in their scheme with a real zeal and boundless optimism; it will not only facilitate their self-serving needs to have a kid, but it will – they hope – give them the latitude to find their own true loves afterwards, once all of the “baby” baggage is out of the way.  Of course, Jason and Jules' friends believe that this plan is somewhat doomed to failure considering the potential complexities that could arise.  Yet, Jason and Jules go forward and when they do have the baby they find themselves dating again, but – wouldn’t you know it – they very gradually begin to realize that – wait a tick! – they may have feelings for one another and perhaps should be together after all. 

Considering the film’s somewhat audacious premise, FRIENDS WITH KIDS lazily traverses through some painfully predictably plot machinations until we get to the unavoidable climax that anyone in the audience with half a brain in their head could see from a mile away.  It’s a perfunctory requirement for romcoms to have two prospective lovers – held back by their own insistence that they don’t love one another – experiment with other potential respective lovers to the point where they get jealous of one another and yearn to be together.  This screenplay gives us two in the form of Kurt  (Edward Burns) for Jules and Jane (the forever easy-on-the-eyes Megan Fox) for Jason, but the way Westfeldt never really builds these people as fleshed out human beings is kind of off-putting.  Kurt and Jane are more or less introduced as plot devices to propel the narrative forward and provide manufactured conflict.  

The film, alas, does benefit from some truly memorable and authentic performances in an otherwise mechanical script; Westfeldt has a natural beauty and poise alongside a vulnerable anxiety that’s believable throughout.  Her co-star Adam Scott sometimes comes off as too much of a self-aggrandizingly smirky and smug skirt-chaser to invite our rooting interest in him as a worthy father figure, but he’s a good actor at shrewdly modulating between laughs and pathos.  The supporting players are strong too, especially Kristin Wiig who plays arguably her least funny role as a bitter and broken down wife that can’t stand to be within two feet of her aggressively spiteful and cold spouse (Hamm in the role has a pitch-perfect detached edge here as his acid-tongued hubby).   

Westfeldt, to her credit, concocts some scenes of bitter and wounding forcefulness between her characters, like a key moment at a cabin retreat dinner table when everyone manages to speak as to what’s exactly on their troubled minds (Hamm in particular cuts to the core of Jason and Jules’ parenting arrangement that’s both contemptuous and truthful all the same).  Westfeldt also has a Woody Allen-like flare for casual, but snappy dialogue that’s refreshing in a sea of recent romcoms that dutifully gives their characters cookie-cutter lines that slothfully advance the plot.  Yet, I just wished that FRIENDS WITH KIDS was not so gratingly banal and preordained with its denouement.  That, and the film’s prerogative about having babies, child rearing, and parenthood lacks a serious contemplative focus.  At least to yuppie-New Yorkers like Jason and Jules, a baby to them seems more like a must-have fashion accessory than a deeply personal and lifelong emotional investment.  Having children is not an inconsequential duty derived from spontaneous hey-wouldn’t-it-be-cool choices, but this film sure seems to treat it as such. 

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