In Kissing Jessica Stein, the first film written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, she plays a modern city-dwelling woman tired going on crummy blind dates with men and somehow embarks on an over-thought relationship with a bisexual woman. This leads to comic repercussions and emotional consequences as she works her way through the ins and outs of this this alternative relationship. For her 2012 directorial debut, Friends with Kids, Westfeldt finds herself in another modern hypothetical relationship.
Westfeldt and Adam Scott (TV’s Parks and Recreation) are affluent Manhattan BFFs who have, to the surprise of their friends, never hooked up. As neurotic urbanites, they arrive at the notion that the best way to start a family without ruining every one of their relationships is for them to have a child together, free of any romantic or sexual entanglement. They come to this conclusion after seeing their married friends turn into ‘mean angry’ monsters once children are introduced into the equation. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are such couple. Once fun and carefree, they’ve now been reduced to an irrational, bickering couple under the weight of parental responsibility.
Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are also introduced as frisky newlyweds whose relationship hits the skids once they become parents. Now, in order for the film’s conceit to work, you have to make a bit of a logical leap and accept that most new parents are actually has horrific as these characters. Does having a baby really turn you into shrews, zombies and alcoholics?
When Westfeldt and Scott finally have their child, they split custody (which is really convenient, seeing as they live in the same building) in a way that allows them both to pursue their own relationships: him with Megan Fox (playing a sexy Megan Fox-type) and her with Edward Burns (playing a hunky milquetoast Ed Burns-type guy). Their friends look on in bewilderment and jealousy as they manage to strike this magical balance between being parents and being happy. We’re not shown the exact logistics of how they pull this off, but we see the effect and can kind of understand how it could work. But it’s also at this point that Friends with Kids finally shows its hand.
At its heart, the film wants to be a both an intellectual experiment and a romantic comedy. As much as it builds up an interesting premise in the first half, the film then takes a U-turn and conforms to standard rom-com plotting. The back half of the film is intent on playing out like the final act of When Harry Met Sally, but played for fewer laughs. Indeed, this film is not the gut-busting laugh-riot the poster makes it out to be.
As you may have seen on the bus ads, the biggest selling points of Friends with Kids is its connection to last year’s Bridesmaids. It shares many of the same cast members and also features a female character whose friends seem to be moving on while she wallows in single-hood; but it’s certainly not a laugh-a-minute type comedy. Instead, it’s quite a thoughtful film that is wittier than it is hilarious. Its caustic view on parenthood will certainly rub some viewers the wrong way, but at least it’s a film with something to say.
Ultimately, it’s the kind of movie that hinges on whether you like the cast. Hamm, Wiig, O’Dowd and Scott are all excellent but as the movie’s core, Westfeldt isn’t anywhere near as likeable or charasmatic as her co-stars. The film seems to be written from the perspective of her character, but we feel the most sympathy for Adam Scott’s character, which makes the story feel a little off balance.
While it’s not an essential piece of viewing, this film is a fairly strong, Woody Allen-influenced comic-drama that will likely resonate with new parents. Or people who happen to have friends with kids.