Friday, March 9, 2012

Friends with Kids is an above average romantic comedy, but with a lot of problems

I really wanted to like Friends with Kids because I think it took a refreshing approach to its material. Jennifer Westfeldt, writer/director/star of the film, really tries her best to make a good film despite a thin premise that can really only honestly go in one direction. As it is, there are many funny moments because this is a really talented cast. Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, Chris O'Dowd, Edward Burns, Megan Fox, and Kristen Wiig co-star in this film and they're all great although Kristen Wiig is criminally underused in the film.

But when these six friends get together (Rudolph, O'Dowd, Hamm, Wiig, Scott, and Westfeldt) a lot of funny stuff comes out. If the movie was just scenes with all these characters together, it'd be awesome. Even when there are serious moments between these characters, it's great. The verbal spar between Jon Hamm and Adam Scott's characters was the highlight of the film for me, and it demonstrates the dramatic potential that Adam Scott always seemed to have.

I'm kinda going everywhere with this review so let me backtrack a little. Basically, Friends With Kids is about a group of friends (two couples, and then Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt) who, at one time, used to hang out with each other all the time, but as the two couples begin to have children, it makes get-togethers a lot more difficult. Plus, Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) kinda want children of their own. They have a close, platonic relationship so the two of them actually being an item is out of the picture. But, they also are having a tough time trying to find "the one" to start a family with and they aren't getting any younger. So, they ultimately decide to have a kid together while remaining friends, continuing to live the single life. Even though their friends think this will turn out to be a disaster, it seems to work out pretty well for them in the beginning.

A lot of Friends with Kids rings true and the fact that the film really tries to explore this idea instead of rushing from plot point to plot point is what separates it from the standard Hollywood rom-com. However, Friends with Kids is very formulaic itself, almost to an annoying degree. And when it tries to wrap things up, that's when it really starts to falter. The ending is pretty much what you were expecting, but the film has so many good moments that it could've gotten away with the typical feel-good ending. Somehow, Friends with Kids manages to screw it up.

Friends with Kids is like a loaf of bread. The middle is the best part, the ends? Not as desirable. The first third of Friends with Kids just feels like a lot of rushing. It feels compelled to get to the point where Jason and Julie have the baby. They don't even really try to stop and consider other possibilities. It's a big, life-altering decision to make and it's just hard to believe that both of them would be so quick to agree to this arrangement. They are smart and funny people, why make them slaves to the plot of the film?

Luckily, once the kid is born, the film does make a concerted effort to really explore these characters' lives and things really start to come to a head when all the friends decide to go on a ski trip in Vermont together. Even when Julie meets with Jason for dinner on her birthday to confess her true feelings to him, it's a well-written scene and the emotions feel right.

But where can this movie really go? It can only go in one direction, at least in this setup. We know these characters will wind up together, we know that even if Jason doesn't feel the way Julie does now, he will eventually. You know it's going to happen, and it does happen. But Adam's realization is so rash and poorly-written that Friends with Kids ends on a really forced note. Jason is a really smart character and was the main reason why the film kept me going throughout its running time, but "I love you so much and am so attracted to you, let me fuck the shit out of you right now to demonstrate my love for you"... really? This is how it's going to end?

Generally speaking though, I mostly enjoyed Friends with Kids. There is a lot to like about it and it approaches its subject matter with maturity and, for the most part, patience. It may begin and end in a very rushed, forced way, but there is a lot to admire about this film. The root of the problem is a plot that really only allows its characters to go down a one-way street. Still, it's very enjoyable to see the ensemble cast all go out together and be funny together. It's a promising directorial debut for Jennifer Westfeldt, I hope she can improve upon it.

Grade: C+

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