Friends With Kids asks you to believe that two very close friends, who individually want a child of their own, would decide to have sex and knock one out which they could then share custody of… without any of the relationship mess. Strangely it’s not the most unappealing idea in the world until you sit back and think that in reality no-one has that kind of clarity and in the movies, relationship mess is impossible to avoid.
After seeing their closest friends defeated by the toll having children wreaks on their lives, Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) decide to play the system. If they have a kid themselves, then they get to keep their friendship platonic, sleep with other beautiful people and avoid having a child destroy a hypothetical relationship. While their friends (Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig & Maya Rudolph) don’t approve they forge ahead anyway and try and keep everything going according to plan…
While in parts it feels like Friends With Kids was made in the breaks of the Bridesmaids schedule (and the marketing would have you believe it’s cut from the same cloth) it’s definitely it’s own thing, and unfortunately that’s not a good thing. While you may initially be disappointed to find Wiig, Hamm, Rudolph and O’Dowd don’t really feature that prominently, you’ll be even more disappointed to find that Jennifer Westfeldt does. Without wanting to sound mean, she’s just not a very good actress and while the writing’s sharp the direction leaves a lot to be desired. While there’s always room for strong female voices in cinema (as Lena Dunham so recently proved) it’s unfortunate that Westfeldt delivers a film that would look cheap on CBS.
It’s hard to not sound like the root of all the the film’s problems lie with it’s writer/director/star but most of them do. Adam Scott brings his incredible charm and likeability to a role that could have come across as spiteful, his Jason a more confident spin on his Parks & Recreation and Party Down persona but his chemistry with Westfeldt is lacking. So when the inevitable 3rd act realisations come (and there’s a moment when it looks like it may stray from the beaten path… don’t get your hopes up) it’s hard to invest in the decisions he makes because quite frankly her Julie is cold, shrill and just lacking in any kind of appealing personality. Try thinking what Jennifer Aniston could of brought to this film and try not to weep…
This isn’t to say the film is completely without it’s moments. There’s an extended dinner sequence towards the end of the third act which turns into an concise exploration of the ethical construct at the heart of the film, allowing Jon Hamm & Adam Scott to make the most of what dramatic meat the film has to offer. In moments like these, Westfeldt’s script offers a glimpse into a different version of the film where everything doesn’t turn up smelling of roses and it’s a far more interesting proposition. O’Dowd (needless American accent aside) and Rudolph offer a warm presence, more reminiscent of the latter’s turn in Away We Go than Up All Night and if I haven’t mentioned Megan Foxx and Edward Burns yet it’s because the film doesn’t really consider them either. They’re very pretty though.
Also commendable is the decision to skip the pregnancy and go right from fucking to birthing, rightfully remembering that Knocked Up covered the same fertile ground with such aplomb it would be pointless to try and compete. Without wanting to sound pretentious, there’s an interesting subtext exploring gender politics in single parents that could have done with a bit more screentime but that’s just nitpicking.
It’s not a terrible film by any means, in fact Friends with Kids is competent at a sitcom level. As such it’s over-long on the big screen, working best as a series of vignettes that offer different perspectives on one questionable ethical decision but strives to hit conventional romantic comedy beats. You won’t hate yourself if you pay to see it, but you will come out thinking you could have done it a lot better yourself.