Friends with Kids is a good date night flick, though it is not quite the bold and sophisticated modern work that some have touted it as.
Jennifer Westfeldt writes, directs and stars in Friends with Kids, a modern-day romantic comedy revolving around Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), two New York City yuppies who realize that they are actually aging urban professionals when their circle of friends - power couple Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig), and bohemian Brooklynites Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd) - transform into stressed-out full-time parents. Julie and Jason live in the same building and are about as close as two platonic friends can be, so they concoct a crazy idea: They both want kids, but not the strain that marriages can suffer as a result of co-parenting. In order to circumvent the pitfalls of the status quo, Julie and Jason decide to conceive a child and raise it as friends, while they both continue the search for their respective soulmates.
However, like any experiment, there are many unknown variables that present themselves - and even when they have the parenting aspect down, Julie and Jason soon learn that their system in no way makes the challenge of love any easier.
Friends with Kids is a not so much a movie as it is a well-crafted stage play converted for the big screen. The movie explores themes of love, family, and philosophies on child rearing in the most overt ways possible - primarily through scenes of the characters sitting around discussing these subjects directly, rather than through action or inference. To her credit, Westfeldt's script feels refreshingly honest and modern in how it envisions couples dealing with careers, marriage and parenting. The dialogue is sharp and bitingly accurate to the times we live in - though I suspect the final lines of the film will either be taken as hilariously accurate or utterly distasteful, depending on the viewer.
The characters are - for the most part - well drawn, with some surprisingly engaging chemistry between Westfeldt and Scott, who offer a new spin on an all-too-familiar rom-com trope. Scott (Parks and Recreation, Piranha 3D) is still surprising us with his unexpected leading man charisma, and this is a welcome return to the big screen for Westfeldt (she's mostly been on shows like 24 lately), who deserves commendation on all three fronts as the star, writer and director.
Kristen Wiig surprises with a well-nuanced dramatic (rather than comedic) performance, playing a quietly suffering wife and mother, while Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph are basically playing to their respective types (boozy alpha-male lothario and sassy friend). Ed Burns and Megan Fox feel a little bit wedged into the proceedings as the potential love interests that Julie and Jason respectively pursue - but in the end, it is Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) who steals many of the best moments from his comedy veteran costars. O'Dowd's character, Alex, is younger than his wife and her friends, and provides hilarious insights about the progressive endeavor Julie and Jason are embarking on, with a slightly-stoned, zen-like demeanor that is the perfect foil for the more manic characters surrounding him.
While Friends with Kids purports itself as being a progressive look at modern family values and structure, it is also somewhat of a disappointment, due to the fact that the so-called "progressiveness" of the subject matter ultimately devolves into an overly-familiar rom-com love story. About two-thirds of the way through the focus shifts, and we go from exploring the pros and cons of an atypical parenting strategy, to a "true love" final act that simply reaffirms many status quo attitudes and opinions about "proper" parenting and the necessity of a gender-balanced nuclear family structure. Put simply: this is the same old romantic comedy, cloaked in a new age skin.
The other thing to note is that Friends with Kids is very much a "New York City" story - and no, I don't mean that the film has some level of intellect or sophistication that only the so-called "culture elite" of NYC can understand. What I do mean is that a lot of the ideas and themes present in the story may be far more relatable to those familiar with the unique existence that comes with living in NYC - a city where trying to start a family when you're staring at age forty is not that foreign. Then again, everyone can relate to the difficulties of aging and transition - watching friends enter the next phases of their lives while you're left behind - and the film smartly takes time to touch on themes about child rearing that are universal to all.
Friends with Kids is a good date night flick, though it is not quite the bold and sophisticated modern work that some have touted it as. The film is only playing in select cities at the moment, and if you're worried that it's not showing anywhere close to you - don't. Truth be told, it's more worthwhile as a rental than a long drive to a theater.
The film is Rated R for sexual content and language.
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