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Review: Friends with Kids (2012)

Friends with Kids (2012)

Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt

Premise: Two best friends (Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott) facing middle age decide to produce a child and share parenting duties without ever being romantically involved. Once the child arrives the friends find things are more complicated.

What Works: Friends with Kids is an example of a movie that makes a familiar and predictable storyline work because of very good character writing and strong performances. The movie focuses on a platonic couple played by Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott, who want children but are turned off by the misery of their married friends played by John Hamm and Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd. Frustrated by the dating scene and facing pressure from their biological clocks, the couple decides to give up on marriage and the nuclear family, which they regard as failed institutions, and forge their own path. In that respect Friends with Kids is bold as it plays like a thought experiment about the advantages and disadvantages of working outside social traditions. The film’s handling of this is very smart as the couple is able to divvy up parenting responsibilities but the emotional and romantic constraints that they’ve unknowingly bought into slowly creep into their relationship. Friends with Kids is very much Jennifer Westfeldt’s film as she is credited as a producer, writer, director, and co-star and Westfeldt is clearly capable on all the creative fronts. Westfeldt and Adam Scott do very good work in the leads and they manage to be empathetic characters; Westfeldt in particular gets the audience’s sympathies as the film plays on the romantic challenges for working mothers. The lead characters’ desire to beat the system is made credible through the supporting performances of Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph, and O’Dowd. Each couple has a distinct kind of marital misery; Hamm and Wiig’s characters have a volatile antagonism born of sexual frustration whereas the couple played by Rudolph and O’Dowd has settled into a stable but disillusioned state. These couples feel real and their wretched state credibly prompts the lead characters to try their familial experiment.

What Doesn’t: Friends with Kids is a predictable film. By the time the story gets through its first act most viewers will be able to anticipate exactly where the narrative is going and it holds few surprises. That familiarity is part of the appeal of the film, as it is for all pictures like this, but the filmmaker’s slavish repetition of the conventions of the genre make it less engaging than similar movies with more unpredictable plotlines such as Waitress or Knocked Up. Friends with Kids is also yet another movie suffering from Sex and the City-syndrome, which is to say that it is about the lives of affluent New Yorkers with contrived problems. This becomes obvious when the viewer steps back to think about the premise; options like sperm donation or adoption are somehow never on the couple’s radar and when trouble starts to brew between the couple it can be challenging to feel empathy for characters who’ve spend the duration of the film digging themselves into a dramatic hole. Like the Judd Apatow pictures from which Friends with Kids partially descends, the lovers spend the bulk of the movie searching for an alternative to traditional conceptions of love and family but by the end they give into it. Despite the filmmaker’s attempt to be hip or progressive, the story ultimately falls back on convention. This is detrimental to the film because it undermines the themes of the story.

DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and featurettes.

Bottom Line: Despite its shortcomings, Friends with Kids is an enjoyable movie and it works as a character study and as a commentary about adult life, contemporary romance, and parenthood. While it is not a particularly original story it does do that story well, the characters are engaging, and the issues it deals with are compelling.

Episode: #404 (September 9, 2012)