FRIENDS WITH KIDS
Written and Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig
Here’s a question: if someone made a movie about your life, what would it be rated? Easy, right? I think most people would agree that our respective biopics would be R. Not because of violence or gore but because, well, adult life can be a little messy. There’s bad language, nudity and thematic elements that would make the MPAA’s decision very easy.
This is my round-about way of saying Jennifer Westfeldt’s FRIENDS WITH KIDS is a very honest portrayal of adult life, while still getting in some dirty jokes and naughty material. Westfeldt’s film feels natural and realistic in a way that many comedies don’t. It’s like a Judd Apatow movie with the volume turned down a couple notches.
Westfeldt stars as Julie, a modern woman living in New York. Julie and her friends have the good life. They’re young, they’re successful and they don’t have a family to slow them down. That soon changes when Leslie and Alex (Rudolph and O’Dowd) get pregnant. Shortly thereafter, Ben and Missy (Hamm and Wiig) also have a child. What was once a young, vibrant band of friends soon becomes distant and pre-occupied with family.
This leads Julie and her best friend Jason (Scott) to wonder about their own parental futures. After several weeks of discussing, Julie and Jason decide they want to have a child together. No romantic relationship, just a baby they can raise and love together. They’re best friends, they care deeply about each other, so why not? Let the great experiment begin! Will their close relationship survive a kid? Will they remain best friends or evolve into something more?
Even with all its strong features, FRIENDS WITH KIDS is still a romantic comedy at its core so you can bet it’ll hit many of the same marks you’ve seen in most romcoms. The Will They Or Won’t They story has been done before and it’s rarely surprising. However, Westfeldt’s strong script and characters prevent the film from becoming tired and derivative.
Westfeldt has assembled a great group of actors here, from her real-life boyfriend Hamm to the always-reliable Rudolph to supporting characters played by Edward Burns and the surprisingly charming Megan Fox. You easily believe and trust these characters, their relationships feel genuine and they’re humorous in honest, grounded ways. There is some crass dialogue (and even a graphic poop joke!) but it’s never played like childish, immature comedy. The characters are always more vulnerable than silly.
The issues with FRIENDS WITH KIDS are minor and, not surprisingly, all associated with the confines of the romantic comedy formula. For one, the ending feels foregone, it’s only a matter of getting there. Said ending also lacks the same realistic approach as the rest of the movie. It’s heartwarming, sure, but it’s also more cinematic and cliched than the scenes before it.
Still, I’m drawn more to the terrific character dynamics than the few weak spots. There are some really impressive conversations and scenes in FRIENDS WITH KIDS. One is between Westfeldt and Scott towards the end of the third act. It’s an honest and painful scene that both performers (especially Westfeldt) play beautifully. I don’t want to give away its conclusion but I thought it was a brave choice.
The other scene that needs to be commended concerns the entire group but specifically Jon Hamm’s character Ben. On vacation, the friends have dinner and drinks while talking about kids, family and life. Things quickly turn sour when a very drunk Ben confronts the silly and reckless idea of having a kid without being in a relationship. It’s a long scene that’s simply fantastic from beginning to end, cringe-worthy but sadly relatable to anyone who’s had an uncomfortable and frank discussion with friends.
The pacing in the movie is also strong, a rare feat for a story that spans several years. Westfeldt knows when to cut, when to skip ahead and when to stop and dwell. She also balances the supporting cast well, giving Julie and Jason the spotlight but allowing fellow cast members their own respective scenes and moments. No one is wasted here.
Jennifer Westfeldt has put together a very adult, realistic and funny comedy that creates believable characters you get to know and care about. I’ve tired of most romantic comedies, I didn’t expect to really like FRIENDS WITH KIDS. But I did. I fell and felt for the characters and their stories and I genuinely cared about the conclusion.
But maybe I was able to enjoy it more than most because I hate kids.