Given its supporting cast (Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig) it would be easy to mistake Friends With Kids for Bridesmaids 2. And the truth is, the latest from writer-director-star Jennifer Westfeldt (indie hit 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein) would be improved with someone like Wiig in the lead role, but anyone expecting another tale of modern sisterhood mixed with a little projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea will be sorely disappointed. Instead Westfeldt (Hamm's long-time partner) has crafted a sometimes smart, sometimes insightful, but ultimately a dramedy too much like a sitcom, and one that toes the line of becoming a vanity project at that.
That's a lot of qualifiers, isn't it?
Unfortunately, it's hard to talk about the movie without them, since what's good is very good but what isn't is just bland and predictable.
BFFs Jason and Julie (Adam Scott, Westfeldt) are dedicated Manhattan singletons in a crowd of married friends; they announce at a monthly dinner that babies are on the way. Flash forward a few years and the couples' homes are overwhelmed by kids and their relationships have soured. Jason and Julie, who want kids but fear the loss of their identities, vow to take a different route: to turn friends with kids into having kids with your friend. Needless to say, their social circle is skeptical but, miraculously, they defy all expectations. Without the baggage of romantic or marital expectations, the pals are able to find the right balance between parenting and personal contentment. But when each decides to hop back into the dating scene — Westfeldt with Mr. Perfect (Edward Burns) and Scott with a hot young dancer (Megan Fox) — things get complicated, forcing the duo to confront the underpinnings of their friendship.
If the plot sounds like a conventional rom-com, it is. But for nearly two-thirds of the film, Westfeldt manages to keep her situational premise unexpectedly authentic, and even perceptive. Her exploration of cross-gender friendship and aging, the honest observations she makes about the toll of parenting, and the affability of the cast keeps things engaging and, at times, nuanced. The movie is at its best when it's contrasting Jason and Julie's outsider view of the emotional chaos of their friends' lives. When gathered as an ensemble, the conversations pop and Friends With Kids offers up some interesting interpersonal dynamics. It also provides Hamm and Scott with meaty, well-written monologues.
Unfortunately, the romantic backbone to Westfeldt's film, which takes up most of its running time, is listless and unfocused. Worse, she doesn't seem to know how to wrap things up, opting for a predictably prolonged break-up then get-back-together finish.
From a performance standpoint, Westfeldt is a warm and likable leading lady, but she's a bit too earnest and one-note. The role would benefit greatly from some eccentric or turbulent emotional undercurrents. The supporting cast, all good, is left equally indistinct and adrift. O'Dowd comes off best as the husband who can't do anything right for wife Rudolph, and Scott is given ample opportunities to prove his acting chops — both comic and dramatic.
Obviously heartfelt and unusually sharp-sighted, Friends With Kids is good enough that you wish it were better. With a little more humor, clarity and provocative irreverence it could have really made a significant impression rather than just amiably pass the time. Here's hoping Westfeldt's next project comes on sooner and stronger.
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