Friends with Kids is one of those high concept romantic comedies that posits a Big Life Question—in this case: can a couple have a baby together and keep the romance?—and then spends the next 90 minutes trying to answer it. Think of it as the No Strings Attached—can friends sleep together without emotional complications?—of the ticking biological clock set.
Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt, best known for 2002’s Kissing Jessica Stein) and Jason (Adam Scott) are good college friends who live on different floors of the same apartment building on Riverside Drive. They watch in alarm as their coupled friends Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) and Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm, Westerfeldt’s real-life partner) conceive and bear children, and proceed to ruin their lives and relationships. At every point the parents are haggard, distraught and argumentative. Fathers are irresponsible and immature. Mothers depressed and resentful. Their looks are sunk. So are their libidos and marriages.
Julie and Jason vow the same will not happen to them, whenever they should each happen to find the mate of their dreams. Problem is: Julie’s not getting younger. There’s no man in sight and she wants a baby. So Jason, a commitment-phobe who’s known for never sleeping with the same woman for longer than a week, hatches a plan, the kind of conceit they come up with in movies and then build the next two acts on, even though it wouldn’t fly for five seconds in real life: he and Julie will have a baby together, totally without ties. Just as parenting partners. Call it Parents Without Benefits.
One awkward insemination romp scene and pretty pregnancy montage later, and the baby is born. All goes according to plan. Julie and Jason not only do it right, they do it better. Living in separate apartments as they do, the lines are clear: they split the childcare 50/50 without argument, with one doing night duty while the other goes on date night. And Julie is out there jogging well before the six week mark, “snapping” back into shape and assiduously doing kegels to make sure her innards do the same. At the five month mark, they give a brunch Martha Stewart would be proud of. Julie’s apartment is sparkling. The spread is sumptuous. Parents and baby are gorgeous. Their haggard married friends are flabbergasted. Julie and Jason make it look so easy. No wonder they’re so smug.
Much has been made of the “ensemble cast,” but Hamm, Rudolph, Wiig and O’Dowd (the latter three so wonderful inBridesmaids) are completely wasted in small and thankless roles. The men play varying degrees of one-dimensional cads and the Rudolph and Wiig characters are presented as sad sacks. Scott tries his best to infuse charm into a one-note character (Jason, an ad exec who is attracted only to women with long legs and giant boobs), but poor Wiig must spend her few brief scenes staring listless and depressed. Westfeldt has managed to make a dull movie from a very appealing and entertaining cast.
It goes without saying that Julie and Jason (and all their friends) have plenty of money, thus obviating the #1 source of parental stress. But here’s a bigger beef: forget about Julie and Jason’s sprawling multimillion dollar apartments on Riverside Drive (with fabulous kitchens and plentiful closet space). Although both parents work at glamorous, remunerative full-time jobs, there is never a single mention of childcare—and not a sight of a nanny or daycare. Nothing gets more ridiculously unrealistic than that.
Friends With Kids shows very little of the friends and almost nothing of the kids and that is to its detriment. This movie is a weird fantasy by someone who obviously knows little of parenthood. It’s not just that the script is rife with clichés (there is literally a moment when Jason stops in traffic and executes a U-turn to race back to fight for Julie’s heart). Never mind piddling details like the fact that he never would have found parking directly in front of Julie’s brownstone duplex in Fort Greene (a neighborhood where residents famously circle around for a full hour before finding parking) in the first place. When Jason screeches to a double park and runs up to the door and leans on the buzzer, right when their child has just fallen asleep, I snorted out loud—the first time I had come close to laughter in half an hour. What father in his right mind would do that? And what mother would open the door and fall into his arms, rather that kill him for waking the baby?
This is a full-press solo effort by Westerfeldt, who wrote, produced, directed (her first directorial effort) and stars. Unfortunately, she overextended herself and it shows. The romance is predictable and the comedy not very funny and the directing functional at best. As for the acting, the last third of the movie devolves into an endless series of close-ups of Westerfeldt’s own face, in which the expressions waver between sadly happy, sadly frustrated, sadly disappointed, sadly wistful and sadly sad. This is not the stuff of which romantic comedies are sustained. Too much of the story falls on Westfeldt’s slim shoulders. She would have done far better to hand out more lines to her talented friends.