Review: Friends with Kids

March 9, 2012 by  

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt star in "Friends with Kids," here reviewed by Bucket Reviews film critic Danny Baldwin.

The poster for Friends with Kids, the new film from Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), is brilliant in the way that it pointedly expresses the essence of the piece. Above a photo of the attractive thirty-something cast conversing over dinner, it contains unchecked boxes next to the terms “love,” “happiness,” and “kids,” and then the phrase “Pick two,” summarizing the compromises that people in this age group must make. Cutesy as the illustration may seem, it is an accurate reflection of the changing attitudes towards marriage and parenthood in contemporary America. Unfortunately, the movie is no deeper than the one-sheet, turning what could have been a perceptive work of social commentary into a novelty rom-com.

Westfedlt’s first misstep is expositional – rather than situate the story in middle-class America, she fills the film with upper-class Manhattanizes. While this choice is refreshing in that it bars the usual Hollywood patronization of the everyman, it ultimately cheapens the central theme of the film (the increasingly elective nature of parenthood) by making it seem like a problem specific to rich Anglos. Furthermore, because the movie is told from the perspectives of dual protagonists Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt)—single friends whose identities are thrust into crisis as their married cohorts build families—it comes across as less a true-to-life portrait of a generation than a pity-party, probably driven by Westfeld’s catharsis.

The plot through which Westfeldt explores the central theme is essentially that of a sitcom – obtuse where it should be nuanced. One night, with the assistance of alcohol, Jason and Julie decide that they can have a kid of their own without sacrificing their current lives – by breeding together, without entering a relationship. They’ll split the time and the responsibilities down the middle, allowing each to have half their life free. To her credit, Westfeldt keeps the overboard premise grounded in reality—once parents, Jason and Julie enter secondary relationships that feel believable—but that doesn’t make its essence any less fabricated. The perfect illustration of this is the ending, which aims to please the crowd rather than realistically resolve matters, once again proving the movie isn’t entirely serious about tackling the issues it raises.

Certain cast-members lend the film enough humanity to save it from seeming entirely phony. While Westfeldt adheres to the standard “female nearing the end of childbearing age, without a husband to bear her children”-prototype, Adam Scott is more original as her partner in crime. Jason’s inevitable development of feelings for Julie is the one genre convention that is authentically implemented in the movie – all thanks to Scott, who here bucks much of his usual boyishness. Also terrific are Jon Hamm, who depicts the troubles associated with parenthood without becoming a trivial misanthrope, and Megan Fox, playing Jason’s girlfriend who resolutely wishes to remain childless. In a better film, these three could have made a real impression.

2 Buckets

* * *

Friends with Kids (2012, USA). Produced by Joshua Astrachan, Riza Aziz, Kathryn Dean, Lucy Barzun Donnelly, Joe Gatta, Jon Hamm, Jake Kasdan, Joey McFarland, Mike Nichols, John Sloss, and Jennifer Westfeldt. Directed and written for the screen by Jennifer Westfeldt. Starring Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns. Distributed by Roadside Attractions. Rated R, with a running time of 107 minutes.