A confident directorial debut from actress Westfeldt, albeit one that sometimes falls back on familiar. A terrific cast gathers around this mostly funny and heartfelt alternative to a rom-com.
At first glance, Friends With Kids may simply seem like an excuse for a Bridesmaids class reunion. Yet drawing together this multi-talented cast of comedians and dramatic actors is filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt, mostly known to audiences from her numerous television and Broadway appearances and titular appearance in the indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, which she also wrote. For her directorial debut, Westfeldt follows a similar thematic thread, and explores the idea of fitting in kids and relationships into modern city living.
Jason (Adam Scott) and Jules (Jennifer Westfeldt) have been friends for most of their life, and know the intimate details of each other’s relationships. As their friends Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd) start having children, followed closely by their other companions Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) being in a similar family way, the single Jason and Jules begin to notice how much parenthood has changed their comrades. Vowing not to become like everybody around them, they decide to skip marriage and have a child together, raising him together but living their romantic lives separately. Things become complicated as the great experiment brings with it unexpected consequences.
Friends With Kids is simultaneously an attempt at doing something new with the familiar rom-com formula, but also a throwback to the mid-1990s indie fare of Edward Burns. Indeed, the one-time king of the New York indie dramedy turns up for a significant role in the film’s second half, sealing the deal and the tone of the piece. There are some very familiar genre tropes at play, with a certain sense of inevitability hanging over much of the narrative. However, like the two leads, writer-director Westfeldt has made a conscious decision to experiment with the format, focusing on the characters and their individual development rather than falling over itself to keep the eventual coupling from happening.
For the most part, this approach works, being just as much a talk-fest as it is dramedic collision of warm bodies. Scott and Westfeldt make likeable leads, and there is a genuine sense of them being functional human beings who exist outside of the microcosm we are presented with. Likewise, their support network are not simply a rehash of “best friend” archetypes, although married life is painted with an taint of unflattering chaos. Wiig and Rudolph are criminally underused, taking a back-seat in key dramatic moments to Hamm and even O’Dowd. Supporting roles for Megan Fox and Edward Burns, as Jason and Jules’ alternate partners, are not wasted either.
Westfeldt falls back on the familiar in the second half of the film, perhaps dragging the film out longer than is absolutely necessary, and leading to slightly uninspired finale. Yet she has also created a group of people that we enjoy spending time with, so that we are provided with a reason to want to see them get together. Unlike similar mainstream hits of the last decade or so, Westfeldt’s dedication to character pays off, ensuring that these friends come with benefits.
Friends With Kids is released in Australia on 7 June 2012 from Roadshow Films.