At a certain age, everyone has them – people they love, friends they’ve grown up with, beloved compatriots that have turned into frazzled, mewling monsters. Let’s call them what they are – Friends With Kids. In Jennifer Westfeldt’s film, she stars as one half of a non-couple with no kids – her Julie Keller has a great apartment and a great job and a great pack of friends, but she’s nowhere near the stage of life when she’ll announce at a dinner that she’s pregnant, or move to Brooklyn to have more space for the rugrats, or to turn into a shell of herself after months of no sleep and no sex and a crying baby. Her best friend, Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) is in the same boat – a bit of a playboy, he’s loose with both his morals and his money, and in absolutely no state to settle down and have a kid.
Which doesn’t quite explain how much they both secretly want to. When the other four members of their inner circle (including Bridesmaids veterans Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm, and Kristen Wiig), already paired off and married, start having children, Julie and Jason are both struck by two thoughts. One – they want kids. Two – they don’t want to have them the way their friends have them. All Julie and Jason can see is the disintegration of romance, beaten down by babies screaming for binkies, lack of sex, and abject exhaustion – which is why they come up with the brilliant plan to buck tradition and have a baby together, sans romance, splitting everything down the middle, while still maintaining their regular (non-romantically involved) lives and building a brave new world.
What’s most obvious to the audience (but not to Julie and Jason even to their friends to some extent) is that they have already built their own world together even before they have their cute baby boy (who is conceived, albeit awkwardly and begrudgingly, the old-fashioned way) – they live in the same building, they rely on each other for support and understanding, they know each other through and through, and they function as a couple when they are amongst their other friends. Adding a child into the mix is really not such a wacky idea – though most people seem to think it is. The arrangement works well for awhile – their friends are aghast and jealous at just how well – until Jason meets the minxy Mary Jane (Megan Fox) in the park, and a somewhat stunned and surely hurt Julie decides she needs to jump back into the dating pool, too, eventually meeting the perfectly lovely Kurt (Edward Burns) and starting a perfectly lovely relationship with him.
But, obviously, this just won’t do. Or will it?
You’ll just have to see. Westfeldt’s film takes its time with its characters’ lives – Friends With Kids covers approximately a decade in Julie and Jason’s lives – so though some expected things happen in the film, they don’t often happen in expected ways or even in expected timeframes. And though the film has some standard plotting and familiar beats, Westfeldt’s ear and eye for truths (both great and small), combined with a cast that frequently exhibits great chemistry, elevates Friends With Kids far beyond your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. In short, it’s a delight, a funny and frisky film that also hits on some deep emotional truths.
The film marks Westfeldt’s directorial debut, but she’s previously penned and starred in two other (quite charming) films that deal with pairs of people who attempt to live their lives in unconventional (but loving) ways. In Kissing Jessica Stein, Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen starred as two straight women who, fed up with singles scene in New York City, try to date each other. In Ira & Abby, Westfeldt’s Abby Willoughby is a free (if not just directionless) spirit who proposes marriage to Chris Messina’s Ira Black – after they’ve known each other about six hours. Her Julie isn’t as extreme as Jessica or as wild as Abby, but Westfeldt’s characters do exist in the same wheelhouse – independent women who find themselves perhaps a bit surprised to discover that they want some traditional things too, like a partner, a husband, or a child. And, in each film, no matter how honest the parties are, or how good their intentions may be, there are bumps in the road.
Yet, what’s most impressive about Westfeldt’s work is that she does not hoard all the good bits (and bumps) for her own characters – Friends With Kids eventually evolves into belonging to Adam Scott in terms of performance more so than it does to Westfeldt, and though the film could stand to offer more in the way of developing the characters of those “friends,” Westfeldt’s co-stars each get opportunities to break out in their own way. Most notably and unexpectedly, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm’s Missy and Ben are the most troubled pair of the friend circle, a married couple whose intense sexual relationship fizzled out after their first child arrives. But whereas Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd’s Leslie and Alex have trouble finding the time to have sex after their kids arrive, though their affection for each other remains clear, Missy and Ben’s lack of sex highlights much deeper issues in their relationship. Which is all a long way of saying that Wiig and Hamm get some heavy lifting in the film, which they accomplish quite handily.
Jennifer Westfeldt has done wonderful work in her directorial debut – Friends With Kids a warm and funny romantic comedy with the right amount of grit and a healthy dose of honesty. The film is both a natural progression from her two previous feature scripts and an impressive step forward. Unsurprisingly, it signals that, in addition to her acting and writing chops, she’s a skilled and keen director who we should hope to see much more from.
The Upside: Friends With Kids is brimming with the three h’s that are essential to making any type of romantic comedy work – humor, heart, and honesty.
The Downside: Some of the supporting characters could stand to be a bit more developed.
On the Side: Westfeldt attended Yale University, where she sang with the a cappella group Redhot & Blue. Is there nothing she can’t do?!