Westfeldt's Follies Squander the Comic and Dramatic Potential of "Friends with Kids" Review

If you didn’t know that Friends with Kids had gone into production before Bridesmaids had hit theaters, you’d swear it was a studio’s reaction to the success of the chemistry between Kirsten Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, and Chris O’Dowd, when in fact the two films sharing four actors from the larger ensemble cast of each is a happy coincidence of Hollywood connection. Friends with Kids moves the Bridesmaids actors into the background to accommodate an off-center romance story between Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt, who pulled triple-duty by also writing and directing the film. As a comedy, Friends with Kids scores lots of points for the rapid-fire banter between its leads, but it’s never truly as exceptional as when the supporting cast joins in, at which point O’Dowd almost steals the show entirely. Where Friends with Kids stumbles is in its drama thanks to a drawn out romance everyone sees coming with Westfeldt giving in to melodramatic passages that require more emotion than her heavily botoxed face can display.

Successful thirty-somethings Jason (Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) take joy in their status as eligible singles living in Manhattan, and for the longest time they thought they shared their love for the nightlife and freedom with their married friends Missy (Wiig) & Ben (Hamm) and Leslie (Rudolph) and Alex (O’Dowd). Eventually though, both couples have kids and seem to become absolutely miserable, leaving Jason and Julie as a duo and resenting the effect children have on a marriage. In what the two believe to be a stroke of genius, they decide to bypass marriage and just have a kid between them, splitting the parenting duties and all other responsibilities as each continues to look for Mr. and Ms. Right in the big city. Even as their experiment initially seems to be a success, it eventually becomes a point of contention between the six friends and a few unexpected obstacles arise that question the soundness of Jason and Julie’s plan.

The pairing of Scott and Westfeldt combined with some of the script’s snappier dialogue make for a good rapport that’s just enough to help those two carry half the film without a lot of support—but that’s really all they do, they carry it. Where the comedy excels is when Wiig, Hamm, Rudolph, and O’Dowd come on the screen, and suddenly the scenes have a whole new energy level and truth to them. The relationship between Rudolph and O’Dowd might be the best in the film, and it gets to the point where every second they’re not on screen seems pointless. Wiig and Hamm also perform well as the married couple whose conflicts over the years have driven them apart, as opposed to O’Dowd and Rudolph who’ve taken the fights and shouting matches with stride, and it’s their relationship that gives the film its dramatic moment of truth and decides what its stance on Julie and Jason’s plan truly is. The supporting four might only have a fraction of the screen time as Scott and Westfeldt, but ultimately they’re the true strength of the film. Even Megan Fox, who plays a substantial role as Jason’s primary girlfriend, scores more laughs than Westfeldt.

It might be more appropriate to say that instead of the supporting cast outshining the two leads, Westfeldt simply didn’t know what she was doing in her characterizations and overestimated her own ability to convey something deeper when the time came. There was potential within the film for a truly emotional and meaningful message on the fluidity of love and the complexity of human relationships, but when the time comes for Westfeldt and Scott to bring it to life, the exchange feels one-sided and ridiculously belabored. Whereas Westfeldt was once a compelling actress in her own right, she’s botoxed her face to the point where the only parts that show any movement are her eyes and chin. Her cheeks, mouth and forehead remain static when she’s supposed to be crying, and consequently it just never has any impact. Then again, that could also have a lot to do with both the audience and the other characters in the film coming to the conclusion of how Julie and Jason should end up fairly early on, but having that resolution delayed for reasons that feel entirely transparent and cheap.

Friends with Kids has an interesting idea at its core, and one that mirrors an ongoing conversation in this country over what the best environment to raise a child truly is. As the concept of a nuclear family increasingly becomes a minority approach to raising children, thanks to the divorce rate and a number of other factors, Westfeldt’s story of unconventional romance and parenting seems to be impressively forward thinking. That is, until it collapses in on itself and capitulates to what the audience suspects will happen from the first second Julie and Jason insist they’re not a couple but rather best friends.

Despite Westfeldt and the two protagonists shouting that there is another option besides the typical route marrying the person you love and having children, the script seems clueless as to how to make anything but the obvious conclusion come to pass. Something daring could have been done here; considering where the story takes all of the different characters, there’s no reason an argument for a less conventional option to the typical family unit couldn’t have had merit here. In the end, it seems like Westfeldt valued the sappy, predictable finale of the guy begging for forgiveness over doing something truly unique.

There are some laughs to be had here, but considering the promise of the cast you can’t help but feel like Friends with Kids doesn’t come close to its potential.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The funniest extra bits on the disc come from an uncut scene wherein Megan Fox tutors Adam Scott on how to play a video game (of which she’s a huge fan both in real life and in the film) only to watch as he tries ineptly, and a rather lengthy blooper reel. Also included is an audio commentary with Westfeldt, Hamm, and Director of Photography William Rexer, a couple of basic production featurettes, and some deleted scenes.

"Friends with Kids" is on sale July 17, 2012 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt. Starring Adam Scott, Chris Odowd, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Megan Fox.

Jul
23
2012
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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