Don't be fooled; although "Friends with Kids" features half the cast "Bridesmaids" -and has the poster and title to prove it (they're the friends with the kids) - the movie isn't about them. In fact, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd and Jon Hamm are merely on hand to serve as motivation and occasional truth-sayers in this contemporary domestic drama disguised as a foul-mouthed Nancy Meyers movie. This is the story of two people, a man and a woman, who want what they want but also want more. Namely, they decide that they want a kid. But with all this wanting going on, and ultimately never stopping (only morphing) I was never truly convinced that the makers of this film honestly had any fundamental understanding of what it really is to be a parent.
The movie is as uneven as it is shortsighted in matters of life, a ho-humming and indecisive movie if there ever was one. On one hand, it wants to be a witty, flowing comedy full of snark and sass. At times, it is. But ultimately, the sheer moral weight of what these people are truly doing becomes too much for even the filmmaker to support, and it all collapses into a rubble heap of strife and the most blatant bits of romantic mis-timing since "Gone with the Wind". "Friends with Kids" aspires beyond the trite and frankly insulting junk food levels of most romantic comedies - a reach that unfortunately only compounds it's failure.
Writing/directing triple threat Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott play lifelong friends in New York City that share every detail of their lives, yet cannot fathom a romantic relationship with one another. Clearly, "When Harry Met Sally" does not exist in their world. This is the kind of one-on-one relationship that not only doesn't exist in real life, it doesn't even survive in movies like this one that nonetheless keep propping up the myth of deep, singular, intimate non-romantic cross-gender relationships. By the end, they will have at least sampled the goods, and will want the love of one another. (Spoiler alert. I guess.) Until then, they remain frustratingly delusional, living purely for their own hollow pleasures. (Their own pleasures mainly being the consequence-free dating of hotter people, such as Edward Burns for her, Megan Fox for him.) Indeed, although even the filmmaker doesn't seem to have a bead on it, this film seems to have something to say about the conflict of individual desires versus the necessary (at least partial) death of the self when it comes to parenting.
Parenting? Yes, parenting. This is where "Friends with Kids" leaps beyond the Harry & Sally conundrum and into irresponsibly murky waters. Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Scott) acknowledge their ticking biological clocks as each admits to wanting a child. But, in full view of the miserable, exhausted state of their friends' child-dominated marriages, they cook up a plan to have their cake and eat it too. Agreeing up front to share the child-rearing responsibilities 50/50, they get busy, having a baby they can jointly raise. So in theory, they will also be able to maintain their single swinging independence, forever. (Hah! The fools!!!)
The rom-com rules dictate that Julie and Jason must end up together. That's comforting escapism for some people. The real-life rules dictate that the kid will want them together. That's not so easy to face through snark and sass. When the story goes down that avenue, we veer uncomfortably into "Scenes from a Non-Marriage". The shift is almost whiplash inducing. All the while, the all-important kid at the center of all of this is barely seen, generally regarded by both the film and it's central characters as merely a prop. At one point, a supporting character actually begins to tell it like is. But then he stops. I guess he just didn't have the words to continue.
The writer/director admitted in print to shooting multiple takes with varying tones to allow options in the editing room, when films often "reveal their true forms". While there's plenty of validity in her observation about the sometimes-mystical art of film editing, the shooting of tonal options during production only signify an indecisive filmmaker uncertain of the tale she's telling. (For a significantly more accomplished, authentic and interesting view of parenthood amid turmoil check out Valérie Donzelli's "Declaration of War"
, which is coincidentally opening concurrently to "Friends with Kids" in some markets.)
- Jim Tudor
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