[Review] – Friends With Kids

9 Apr

Title: Friends with Kids
Year: 2012
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns
MPAA Rating: R, sexual content and language
Runtime: 107 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Metacritic: 55

No, Friends with Kids is not a Bridesmaids sequel or spin-off of any kind, though you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that from looking at the promotional materials for this one. After all, this film features Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd in supporting roles, all of whom appeared in last year’s hilarious comedy (which I gave an A- t0 and was my 39th favorite film of the year). But no, this isn’t connected to Bridesmaids in any other way than having those great people appear in it, which is due to the fact that they’re all good friends in real life and love to work with each other.

What this is, is Jennifer Westfeldt‘s directing debut. She’s the woman who wrote and starred in Kissing Jessica Stein back in 2001, which was a really funny and refreshing take on the romantic comedy genre. She’s also, much to the chagrin of the female population of the world (and people like me who have huge man-crushes on the guy), the woman who snatched up Jon Hamm from the single’s pool, being in a long-term relationship with the Mad Men actor since 1997. And this, her directorial debut, which she also wrote and in which she also stars, is a truly commendable effort, providing a winning combination of both sharp humor and touching emotion, all delivered by an infinitely talented ensemble.

The ensemble plays this tightly-knit group of friends living in New York during that moment in life when people start having children and having their lives forever changed because of that. And we focus on the last two remaining singles in that group of friends, who look at what having kids has done to their friends’ relationships and decide that there must be a better way to go through that. So they decide to try a little experiment of sorts; they’ll have a kid together, but just as friends, still being able to date other people while they go through that whole process. And that of course, will make Friends with Kids a really funny and touching film that brings forth a lot of really great questions about love and friendship.

Of course that arrangement of being friends with kids won’t work, the film would be over in twenty minutes if it did. But what I think really makes this film interesting is that, while this is a premise that could have made for a pretty generic romantic comedy sort of affair in which the two have the kid, realize it doesn’t work out the way they wanted to, but then fall in love and start a proper family, Ms. Westfeldt doesn’t play it so straight. She has a lot to say about relationships, and how both Jason, the friends she decides to have a kid with, played by Adam Scott, and the character she plays, Julie, go about choosing a partner and what they expect from a relationship.

Ms. Westfeldt knows how to craft the story she’s telling here; while she and Mr. Hamm have no kids of their own, she clearly has friends that do and knows that there’s nothing easy about the whole ordeal, and she perfectly shows that kind of nervous tension in her character that knows there’s a clock ticking somewhere inside her. That very grown-up tension helps dictate the rhythm of every single scene, and the film works so damn well because of just that.

Not to mention that these are all very funny people (Mr. Hamm may not be known for comedy, but he’s truly a hilarious guy), but they’re not in funny mode all the time here. And it’s great that they’re not, because you get to see the little things about how relationships can actually be. Ms. Rudolph and Mr. O’Dowd play one couple who are in a really messy place as they raise two kids, she’s just arguing over every little thing and he’s oblivious to it all, but they also bring a warmth to the table. While Mr. Hamm and Ms. Wiig play the other couple and they’re at the other end of the spectrum, barely speaking to each other, she giving him those steely glares Kristen Wiig can be so good at, and him kind of acting like a dick at times.

These are all people giving pretty great performances here. Even Megan Fox, who I’m not even close to being a fan of, is good when she pops up here as Mary Jane, an actress-slash-dancer Jason meets, bringing to the role everything it needed (though her chemistry with Mr. Scott wasn’t that great, probably due to him being an awesome guy and she being something far from). And while Ms. Westfeldt herself is certainly very good here, playing Julie to perfection as a woman who on the outside is trying to make it appear as though everything is great, this show belongs to Adam Scott. He’s a guy who’s been seriously great on TV ensembles like Party Down and Parks and Recreation, and that brings that same charm to the forefront here, playing it perfectly as a guy that seems super smooth but in reality is just really vulnerable. When you have an ensemble like this few things can go wrong.

I loved how Ms. Westfeldt crafted all these little devices to make us laugh at how people deal with parenthood. I loved them not because of the laughs they brought out, which were genuinely earned, but because those laughs helped to uncover truths about much bigger themes that aren’t sugarcoated at all and as such can be rather painful to witness. There will be people who won’t like this film, its 63% tomatometer indicates as much, but the nuances of the script and the integrity with which the characters are drawn-out and played make this film feel very real, and the stuff being said many times is just terribly smart for you not to pay attention.

For me, it’s safe to say that Friends with Kids is one of the better films of the year so far. I’ve said that this is a film that takes its time to note all the stuff that can go wrong in relationships and raising kids, but this is also a film that’s quite funny in its depiction of that. It’s a romantic comedy by and for grown-ups with real-life experience, who know that the classic thought of having two kids and a great house and life isn’t that easy to achieve, and for whom the issues that come along with that are a reality. Jennifer Westfeldt has crafted a very personal film, helped out by her friends, and she delivered a wonderful little slice of life as it is in reality, including the rough patches of it.

Grade: A-

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