Mark Reviews Movies

Friends with Kids


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jennifer Westfeldt

Cast: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content and language)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 3/9/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 9, 2012

The premise of Friends with Kids is that two best friends decide to have a child together without any of the potential entanglements that come with marriage or even a romantic relationship. If one wants to take it as an assertion of the inevitable progress of freedom, that's fine. If one wants to see it as a further example of the breakdown of the traditional family, that's fine, too. The movie doesn't care either way; it's just an exploration of the results such a situation could bring. Since it's a comedy and those best friends are naturally perfect for one other, those results are admittedly predictable and formulaic.

Instead of focusing on the sociological aspects of the setup and the inevitable conclusion of the story, let's look at the two characters at the heart of the story for a moment. Like the rest of her friends, Julie Keller (Jennifer Westfeldt, who also wrote and directed the movie) is in her late 30s. She's single and beginning to wonder if she'll ever meet "her person," that hypothetical soul mate who is sure to complete her life. She once dated a guy from college for nine years, but it didn't work out. Since then, her love life has been nothing but misses.

After doing some quick math, she determines—even in the best-case scenario in which she would meet the man of her dreams soon (Oh-so conveniently enough, she does in the form of a divorcé played by Edward Burns)—she would be on the other side of 40 by the time she's married and has a baby. Might as well get the baby part out of the way now. Surely there are more selfish reasons to bring a child into the world. The entire flippancy of her reasoning turns out to be a major part of eventual conflict, so we can forgive her (and him, too) that.

On the other side of the coin is Jason Fryman (Adam Scott), a long-time womanizer who hasn't had a relationship that's lasted longer than six weeks. At the start of the movie, he casually discusses with Julie on the phone how he plans to break up with the woman sleeping next to him the next day. This is not a man looking for commitment or responsibility anytime soon. He certainly wants kids one day, so, again, he might as well get that out of the way now.

There are two things one should notice about these descriptions. The first involves Jason, who is established as an irresponsible, self-centered sort of rapscallion (The two friends play a morbid game of choosing between two ways of dying; when Julie asks if he would rather die or lives to watch the love of his life die, he chooses the latter—wait for the obvious turnaround) and yet more than willingly and quite enthusiastically decides to go along with the plan; in fact, it's pretty much his idea in the first place.

Unlike Julie (the old biological clock ticking away), his motivation is never quite clear, making the decision an unjustified paradox. After the baby is born, he takes to fatherhood with ease and without any complaints. He even meets Mary Jane (Megan Fox), a lithe dancer who doesn't want any kids, while taking his son for a walk in the park.

The second point is that both of the central characters are nothing more than walking, talking clichés, and Westfeldt's dialogue, which is quite on-the-nose (i.e., Jason really likes large breasts, doesn't he?), only highlights the fact. The rest of the characters are in the same vein. There are two married couple with whom Julie and Jason are friends. One pair, Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd), is too busy raising their own children to spend much time outside of family life; they fight constantly but are, of course, happy together deep down. The other two, Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm), are too busy having sex to spend much time with their friends; like Leslie and Alex, their relationship makes an about-face, though theirs toward misery.

Things work out surprisingly well for Julie and Jason as they split the parenting responsibilities in half, continue to date, and are even able to have their friends over to her clean apartment. That is until Julie realizes that she might have feelings for Jason that go beyond friendship (They make the baby the old-fashioned way, but it's awkward for both). Jason doesn't reciprocate those feelings.

The situational comedy of the first acts doesn't quite work, since we're so aware of the familiar characterizations (not to mention the inconsistency of Jason's), and Westfeldt's heavy-handed approach to ensure we are conscious of them. Friends with Kids finds some honesty just before the final act starts up, when Ben finally confronts his naïve pals about how their outwardly content lives were doomed from the moment they went through with the plan, and in a transitional montage that shows everyone adjusting to new, unexpected situations. It's a surprisingly effective sequence that stands out particularly because everything that comes after it is simply going through the motions.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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