Review: “Friends With Kids”

The unconventional rom-com is both genuinely fun and surprisingly grim.

Tony

“Friends With Kids”

Written/Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt

Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph

When Adam Sandler gathered a bunch of his old “Saturday Night Live” buddies (and Kevin James) together to make “Grown Ups” in 2010, he couldn’t fool critics or audiences into thinking they had done anything other than screw around with $70 million of major studio money. Thankfully, when longtime couple Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm make a movie with their friends, the result is fresh and well thought out.

“Friends With Kids” is written and directed by Westfeldt, who also wrote the indie hits “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Ira and Abby.” Westfeldt stars as Julie, an affluent Manhattanite and college BFF to Jason (Adam Scott of “Parks and Recreation”). The two decide to have a baby without becoming romantically involved, beating the system by sharing the child and pursuing new relationships.

Orbiting Westfeldt and Scott are Hamm and his “Bridesmaids” co-stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, playing couples in various stages of dealing with the trials of having children.

Julie, Jason and baby son Joe are an exemplary if non-traditional family unit at first. However, once the excitement wears off, Julie meets the impossibly perfect Kurt (Edward Burns), Jason gets with Mary Jane — played by the boring and out-of-place Megan Fox — and things begin to get rocky.

Westfeldt’s biggest strength is her willingness to take “Friends With Kids” to darker places than mainstream romantic comedies. When the film jumps ahead four years to show the toll children have had on the couples, it’s not all explosive diarrhea and hilarious pratfalls (although there’s some of that too). Instead Westfeldt admirably and surprisingly shows new parents at their most harried and vicious.

Wiig and Hamm especially drive the squirmy pathos with standout performances, nearly devoid of any funny lines.

O’Dowd and Rudolph also do great work, but “Friends With Kids” belongs to Scott and Westfeldt. Their chemistry gives the film its heart and shows off Westfeldt’s formidable acting chops.

These three-dimensional characters inhabit a bright, artificial world, with the style and casual affluence of “Modern Family.” This may be an attempt to make “Friends With Kids” appeal to a wider audience, which isn’t a problem until the film’s third act, when most of the supporting characters evaporate, and the Scott/Westfeldt relationship falls into painfully conventional rom-com territory.

Although it doesn’t quite stick the landing, “Friends With Kids” shines on the strength of its exceptional cast and fresh premise. Westfeldt is a capable writer, director and actress who should be getting more work. The film also proves that her, Adam Scott and the cast of “Bridesmaids” should hang out and make a movie more often, no Kevin James required.

 

Rating: 3 out of 4 Stars