FRIENDS WITH KIDS, written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt (KISSING JESSICA STEIN, IRA & ABBY), is a daring and poignant ensemble comedy about a close-knit circle of friends at that moment in life when children arrive and everything changes. The last two singles in the group - Westfeldt and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation, STEPBROTHERS), observe the effect that kids have had on their friends' relationships and wonder if there's a better way. They decide to have a kid together - and date other people.
Friends With Kids is a piece of filmmaking that provides an honest, if not abrupt, look at growing older, having children, monogamy, and friendship. Following a group of tight knit friends over the course of many years the viewer is invited to see how relationships change, between couple's themselves and also between friends when they find themselves at different places in their lives. The six main characters are composed of three very different couples. Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) begin as the lust filled, can't keep their hands off each other, couple--then they have a child and well, things go south from there. To quote Ben's character, "She acts like I raped her to have a baby." The other married couple is Alex (Chris O'Dowd) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph). They are the couple with children who make it work even when things get difficult, nasty, and all out war seems on the horizon. The final couple is actually not a "couple" in the married/dating sense but two people who have been the best of friends for more than a decade. Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) discuss everything with one another, including the fact that they never want to have relationships like those of their closest friends. The presumed misery keeps Jason and Julie wanting to stay clear of marriage, but they both would like a child. The solution as it seems, and possibly a disastrous plan in the making, is to have a child with one another as friends. A fifty-fifty split on everything when it comes to taking care of their baby, except they never have to have the problems marriage appears to bring into people's lives.
Having a child with your best friend, experiencing all that comes with it, and maintaining a strictly platonic relationship is a difficult concept to conceive of, when both people are heterosexual; and also extremely hard to hit the right tone without alienating the viewer. Friends With Kids is in fact vulgar at times, and some of the dialogue can be hard to manage because it is unabashedly honest. These are things that make it better than most dramas/comedy's that make their way to the screen. The film is funny in obvious ways and equally in its subtle commentary on relationships. It speaks volumes about aging, and the eternal quest for what everyone presumes is the perfect match.
Julie and Jason continue to date after having their child, respectively with Kurt (Edward Burns) and Mary Jane (Megan Fox). They both find qualities in each that are far different than the relationship they have with one another, and the severe maturity Julie appears to have versus the immature nature of Jason's choices may be the singular fault in Friends With Kids. The equal footing of both parties is never found, and the predictable nature of the final act of the film does put a damper on the overall feeling one has towards the uniqueness of the script to that point. That aside, Friends With Kids is a movie couples, singles, and those feeling the strain of having friends with kids can relate to on a variety of levels. It will undoubtedly make you laugh, and perhaps shed tears of sorrow and delight as the story unfolds.
The ensemble cast of Friends With Kids is a Director's dream; and Director/Screenwriter Jennifer Westfeldt uses each individual's strong performance skills in order to strengthen the film. The dialogue and overall tone of Friends With Kids is tricky to maintain. The actors had to be sarcastic and witty but also maintain the sense that everyone does indeed care about everyone else. The snarky commentary or complaints, or all out fighting, are balanced with good humor, touching moments, and dialogue that any one of the viewers watching may say. Each character is also well thought out, bringing a sense of individuality to everyone and no one gets lost in the coupledom shuffle. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig demonstrate their comedic talents less than dramatic ones, a welcome change to their otherwise expected character choices. Jon Hamm is at his best, even if his character is given less time than others, but the brooding, miserable face he puts on says more than any line of dialogue.
This rings true to all of the characters, the camera captures their exceptional performances more times than not with a simple expression, or reaction, to another characters comment or action. The ability to play in an ensemble and work off one another like this, instead of finding the beats in the script but creating those beats, shows the immense talent of the cast. Westfeldt's Julie and Scott's Jason are the tie that binds it all together and they do so wonderfully. His more callous approach towards women, coupled with a deep emotional tie to Julie that is far be it more touching than most couples portrayed on screen. Julie is the more sensitive one, and outwardly insecure. She is also strong and capable; never letting anyone feel sorry for her state or the fact that she had to have a baby with her best friend because she was getting old. Watching this remarkable cast perform in a well-written script, and an excellently directed film, makes Friends With Kids a movie you would not want to miss experiencing.
There has been press around Friends With Kids comparing it to last years Bridesmaids, also starring Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. They could not be more wrong on the type of comedy in Friends With Kids as compared to the type in Bridesmaids. There is one scene you could call similar, being that it involves "poop", to be crude, but baby poop versus a woman pooping in the street are very different--even if both scenes are funny. Friends With Kids makes you laugh because it is real, brutal on it's characters and their relationships, and all too familiar in the conversations people have with one another, or about each other. Having your best friends announce they are having a baby together, and then saying it is the worst idea ever the minute they leave, is funny. Just do not bet on over-the-top crass humor in Friends With Kids. The more subtle, sarcastic, and agreeable laughs come in this movie, and when they do happen it creates a more realistic picture of the comedy that is life.
Comedy, Drama, Romance
March 9, 2012