Film Review – Friends with Kids
I don’t know why it is so hard to make a good romantic comedy anymore. I want to laugh. I want to watch nice, funny people fall in love. Instead, I get unfunny, stupid crap that hurts me. For every one Easy A, I get twenty The Bounty Hunter. I don’t want Valentine’s Day. I want The Philadelphia Story. I want Say Anything, dang it! But instead—somewhere between crap and awesome—I get Friends with Kids. It has a great cast and a decent writer/director behind it, but it’s not nearly as good as it should be. It doesn’t suck, but it doesn’t have any magic. (Did I forget to say I want magic?)
Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) are long-time best friends, and part of a group with two couples: Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig), and Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd). The six of them are at a nice restaurant complaining about parents who bring their children to fancy places, when Leslie and Alex announce that they are pregnant. After a moment of awkwardness, they reassure everyone that things will remain the same and they will just hire a sitter for their adult nights out. Flash forward a couple of years. Now Ben and Missy have a baby as well, and boy have the fun times ended. They are tense and unhappy with each other, and Leslie and Alex bicker like there’s no tomorrow. Julie and Jason watch all of this, and wonder if having kids is worth it.
They both want children, but they also want better relationships than their friends seem to have. So they decide to have a child with each other and then pursue romance with other people. This works successfully for a while, but emotional and logistical complications arise when they both start to have serious romantic partners (Megan Fox and Edward Burns). They never really thought through how adding other variables to their equation would work, and now they must deal not only with scheduling issues, but also with how co-parenting has changed the nature of their own relationship.
There is some good stuff here. The script has a lot of funny moments, and I laughed out loud a couple of times. There is some poop humor, both adult- and toddler-oriented, which I don’t really enjoy, but if you are into that kind of thing, then here you go. The cast is strong, and everybody gives a good performance. This is Jennifer Westfeldt’s first directing effort, and she’s good. The film is paced well, it makes sense, and the world is believable. (I know those seem like rather pedestrian accomplishments, but many established directors fail on these points quite often.) This film is way better than a lot of stuff out there, and I can’t wait to see what else she is going to do. Unfortunately, better does not mean great, and in this case it just means okay.
If you were to notice one thing about me in real life, it would be that I swear like a sailor. I am not a prude. And yet I felt like they were beating me over the head with a crude stick here. There is a lot of discussion between Julie and Jason about the state of her post-childbirth vagina. A lot. To the point that I was starting to worry about her mental health. Yes, it is something that women think about. No we don’t discuss it endlessly with our male friends. There is some penis talk, but not nearly as much as there is about lady-parts. And the already mentioned poop jokes. And the use of the f-word in a crucial scene that so jarred me I was taken out of the moment. I’m not sure why all of this was in the film. Maybe they are trying to replicate the success of Bridesmaids, but that was a different kind of movie, and I don’t think it works here.
But the most important area where this film fails for me is the fact that no one except for Chris O’Dowd’s character Alex is likeable. Ben and Missy are miserable and nasty to each other, and Leslie just nags Alex into oblivion. It’s unclear to me why these people have remained friends for so long, and Julie and Jason aren’t much better. He works in advertising (I think), has never had a long-term romantic relationship, and likes to date skinny women with big boobs. (We know this because he talks about it a lot.) She helps a rich man give away his money, worries about her looks, and can’t get a date. This is all we know about them outside of their relationship with each other, which is problematic, because they don’t seem like real people; Westfeldt shows us nothing about them except for who they are together. He calls her “doll,” she phones him in the middle of the night to play “would you rather,” and they are great at raising a child together. That’s pretty much it. Jason is actually kind of skeezy, and we only like him because Julie does. How is it possible to make Adam Scott—the most adorable romantic lead on television right now—so unappealing? Julie is slightly more likable, but we only see her in this one context, so who is to know if she is an interesting person or not? There is no reason to care if these people get together. They have really annoying friends and they don’t do anything except talk to each other and have sex with other people.
It is a tribute to the skill of all the actors in this film that this film is enjoyable as it is. And there is some enjoyment to be had, so go out and see it. But be prepared to want more, because it’s just good enough to make you realize how much better it should have been.
Final Grade: B-