A decade after receiving critical acclaim for her co-written screenplay and lead role in the excellent Kissing Jessica Stein, Jennifer Westfeldt takes the directorial reins with a movie that will feel timely and relatable to anyone who’s questioned the state of the nuclear family or dealt with the kinds of changes that naturally occur when your friends start procreating. Friends With Kids dares to wrestle with the notion that there’s no single correct way to form a partnership or raise a family, even if the result winds up being a bit more conventional than expected.
The story, which is rife with insight and teasing humour, centres around best friends since college and current thirtysomethings Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott from TV’s Parks and Rec). The two are the last singletons amongst their immediate circle of friends (played by a large number of Bridesmaids principal cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd and Westfeldt’s real-life main squeeze and the film’s producer Jon Hamm) and although they’re mostly unconcerned about their own marital status, they do lament the fact that once they do find someone and start a family their romantics relationship is likely to suffer.
One night at a bar, Julie and Jason ponder just how much their friends have changed since having kids.” I don’t know these people anymore,” Jason says, bewildered following a dinner party where their frazzled chums did nothing but snap at their children and one another, completely unable to enjoy themselves. “These people are mean and angry.”
Eventually Julie and Jason decide to have a child together while maintaining their platonic friendship. This way, they reason, they can have the best of both worlds: a child and supportive parent partner as well as a potential romantically-charged relationship with Mr. or Mrs. Right who they can continue to search for outside their new family unit.
Cut to a year later and the experiment appears to be going surprisingly well. The two have great kid who truly enriches their lives. In fact, despite their friends’ constant speculations that their arrangement won’t work and that their lives will be messy and out-of-control, it seems as though the new dynamic is extremely efficient and agreeable (further proven by a great scene in which the friends visit expecting to see chaos and are greeted with a neat-as-a-pin apartment, a happy baby and a home-cooked gourmet lunch).
It’s a surprisingly refreshing turn of events for a movie in this particular genre to acknowledge that a non-traditional family can be just as good, or in some cases better, than what society has been taught is the ideal.
That’s why it’s such a bummer when the film’s final act begins to devolve into more traditional rom com tropes. Of course, one of the two is going to develop feelings for the other. Of course, the other is going to spurn those advances only to realize their mistake after it might be too late. Of course other romantic partners (Ed Burns and Megan Fox in this case) are going to turn up to complicate matters further. It’s trite and expected and if Westfeldt weren’t such a skilled comedy writer, it might have ruined the whole movie. Thankfully, it doesn’t.
Westfeldt does a good job in the lead role, even if she plays Julie as bit too much of a cutie-pie neurotic (think her Jessica Stein character crossed with Minnie Mouse) and Adam Scott steps comfortably into the leading man role that’s been alluding him for years. His comic timing is sharp and on-point giving the film’s fluffier moments some edge, but he’s also capable of carrying off the drama. He’s especially great in one revelatory scene that finds him squaring off with Hamm in a perfectly written showdown wherein Jason defends his choice of parenting partner, enumerating Julie’s best qualities in a way that keeps what could have been a sickly-sweet moment right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel from becoming a total gagfest.
Ultimately Friends With Kids is an unconventional family drama that uses conventional romantic comedy clichés to make its point. That may seem weird, but just like the film’s central non-traditional relationship it all ends up working out just fine indeed.