Jennifer Westfeldt has had an interesting career as a screenplay author, and hopefully she’ll get some of the credit she deserves with Friends with Kids, even if it has its flaws. After spinning part of the play Lipschtick into Kissing Jessica Stein, and ultimately earning a lot of love among indie fans, Westfeldt’s next film, Ira & Abby, remains as woefully unheard of today as ever.
Friends with Kids follows a curious turn of events that takes place within a group of six friends. Four out of the group are married couples, and then there’s Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt).
Couple 1, Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd), are exactly the couple you’d expect them to be if you’re familiar with Rudolph and O’Dowd (Away We Go-esque Rudolph anyway). They’re funny, in a quippy sort of way, and provide the majority of the “humor glue” that holds the group together.
Couple 2, Ben (Jon Hamm – yes, Westfeldt’s long-time… boyfriend?) and Missy (Kristen Wiig), are the steamy pair of the group, but are also that couple every group has who seems somehow more “adult” than everyone else.
Then we have Jason and Julie. The whole group have been friends forever, and Jason and Julie have been best friends since college, and they aren’t remotely attracted to each other (says the film’s production notes).
The group is entering that “kid phase” of its existence, and just in case you weren’t sure about that, Leslie announces that she’s pregnant. In order to emphasize the awkwardness this entails for the group as a whole, she does so just at the tail end of Jason’s rant about the squawking, disruptive children someone else brought to the very sophisticated restaurant they are trying to enjoy.
Fast-forward several years, and Leslie and Alex now have two kids, and Ben and Missy have one of their own as well. As we see the group come together again, things seem very different, despite the standard chat we had at the beginning about how things aren’t going to change. This leads to Jason and Julie, somewhat emboldened with alcohol, to privately tear into everything from the change in the group dynamic, to the general state of the world where kids are concerned, and just about everything else. Getting a bit up there in years, they’re thinking about kids and relationships, and how things will possibly play out for them, and Jason starts in on the positives of divorced couples. They have the kids, but only half the time, leaving them free to pursue their love life.
This eventually spins around to Jason putting it out there that Julie should have a child with him, and they could just skip past the marriage to the divorced situation. It’s a joke, but somehow it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Of course, this is exactly what they do, and after a bit of awkwardness and some more fast-forwarding, they have a son, Joe, and it all actually seems to be working out.
What Westfeldt has proven in the past is that she’s a conversationalist. Her films involve very little beyond people sitting around talking, and the reason Kissing Jessica Stein has the pseudo-cult status it does, is that she knows how to get characters to say things in a way that convinces audiences that they could actually be having this conversation themselves. This is never more true than during the majority of Friends with Kids, and unfortunately, never less true when we get down to the film’s largely useless last couple of minutes.
Overall, the film serves as a fairly brilliant medium for bringing forward a lot of relationship struggles that not only face everyone with kids, but those that are new to that group given the ever-modifying societal structure we live in today. Though occasionally trying a bit too hard, these points of reference are delivered with a wit and charm that manages to not only entertain, but be convincing about that entertainment. Chief here is playing power of O’Dowd and Rudolph, who are a fun and funny couple, but gather their humor with a strong sense of reality. They are playful and get along wonderfully (the “22 and 28 = hot, 32 and 38 = not so much” line is a standout), but they work their conversations from disagreement, just like real people.
The film also offers up viewpoints with realistic connections, and this is sadly not the norm. In its effort to “talk about relationships involving kids,” it moves through our other couples’ reactions to this “non-relationship child” idea. Unsure how to deal with feeling part of the “system” Julie and Jason are trying to beat, and at the same time finding it a struggle to face the issues they are trying to avoid now that they have a new spotlight on them, the other four members of the group are somehow as much affected by Julie and Jason’s decision as they are. And, while the film’s poster makes a good point about “picking two” (Love. Happiness. Kids.) within your own relationship, we’re clearly also delivering the message about the far-reaching tendrils of child ownership.
Possibly lacking in an ability to lure those who aren’t within the protagonist age-demographic, Friends with Kids is likely to find itself in the same category as Kissing Jessica Stein – best friend to many, unknown to most.
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.
There are big laughs and unexpected emotional truths as this unconventional ‘experiment’ leads everyone in the group to question the nature of friendship, family and, finally, true love.
The film stars Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS is a Red Granite Pictures presentation of a Points West Pictures and Locomotive production. It was produced by Westfeldt with Jon Hamm, Joshua Astrachan, Jake Kasdan, Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland. Executive Producers are Mike Nichols, John Sloss, Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Joe Gatta.