I don’t know what it is about actress/writer Jennifer Westfeldt but she has never has really clicked with me. I didn’t like KISSING JESSICA STEIN and her little seen follow-up IRA AND ABBY was average at best, some of the main reasons being that I didn’t find any of characters or the stories in both films all that interesting or engaging. Plus as comedies, they really weren’t funny. So when came to her latest film FRIENDS WITH KIDS (which she not only again wrote and star in but she also makes her directorial debut as well), I didn’t really have any expectations for it. However what did catch my interest in this film was the supporting cast, which consists some of the stars of one of my favourite comedies from last year BRIDESMAIDS (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’ Dowd and Jon Hamm). So now you’re all probably wondering what did I think of the film. Believe it or not, I actually found it to be a surprisingly good film.
The film tells the story of Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), two single thirty-somethings who have been best friends since college. He is a womanising advertising executive who sleeps with a different woman every week, while she is an investment advisor who is having a tough time meeting a man on the dating scene. Despite their very different love lives, they are both looking for that special someone to settle down and have children with. They both also happen to be friends with two married couples: Leslie (Maya Rudolph) & Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Ben (Jon Hamm) & Missy (Kristen Wiig). When both couples decide to have children, Jason & Julie notice how their friend’s marriages begin to suffer after having kids and they start worry whether the same thing will happen to them in their own relationships in the future. Later on while having discussion about it, Jason & Julie come up with a rather crazy idea: they decide that they’ll have a child with together but keep their relationship strictly platonic. So that way they can both date other people without their relationship falling into the same shambles as their married friends. At first their friends and families tell them that their plan can only lead to disaster but once Jason & Julie have their baby, to everyone’s surprise their plan actually works much better they thought it would be. However Jason & Julie’s stable relationship starts to get complicated once his new girlfriend Mary Jane (Megan Fox) and her new boyfriend Kurt (Edward Burns) come into the picture.
While I will admit that the synopsis, that the plot does sound a bit contrived (I would lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t) but writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt somehow found a way to make it both work and believable. This is a mature and surprisingly funny indie romantic/comedy that does a really good job in exploring a topic that many couples with children can relate to with both equal measure of humour and heart. Westfeldt does a really solid job on her first time out in the director’s chair, while her direction isn’t visually flashy as other directors but she directs it with both confidence and ease. Also she wrote quite a good script as well, the dialogue is all nicely written and the characters are well rounded and developed. Westfeldt and, particularly, Scott both do a great job and have really good chemistry with each other. The supporting cast (Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph, and O’Dowd) are all terrific in their roles and they provide some of the film’s best moments. Some of the things that surprised me most about this film were how genuinely funny it was. There were moments during it that I was actually laughing out loud (which was the complete opposite reaction with Westfeldt’s other films). Also despite being a comedy, the film doesn’t shy from being honest and raw during certain scenes (one in particular involving the friends having dinner at a cabin during a weekend away).
In terms of negatives: even though I think that the well written in both its characters and scenes, unfortunately the film does get rather formulaic and predictable with its plot, I pretty much figured out exactly where it was going to go with the story. Especially in the 3rd act, which falls back on the kind of clichéd ending we have seen in many times before in other romantic/comedies. While both Megan Fox and Edward Burns are both fine turns with their performances as Mary Jane and Kurt but their characters are a bit underdeveloped. Plus there were two subplots in the film (Jason’s relationship with his estranged parents and Ben & Missy’s marriage) that I found interesting, but I didn’t feel like Westfeldt explored these aspects enough.
Despite those couple of faults, I very much liked FRIENDS WITH KIDS overall. It isn’t a film that’s going to be changing anyone’s life but it’s still rather solid entry into the romantic/comedy genre. It’s a funny, heartfelt and enjoyable film that I think everyone should check out.
– Bede Jermyn