Early in Friends with Kids, we meet a troupe of proud, successful New Yorkers, led by best buds Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt). Accompanying them at dinner one evening are recently pregnant Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd), and the can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm). They talk, bitch, drink, have fun, whatever.
Four years later and Leslie and Alex are only slightly less miserable than Missy and Ben. Miserable with their loud kids, their lousy sex lives, their failing marriages, and so on. After many adult conversations, Jason and Julie, who are both perpetually single, elect to have a child together and subsequently spilt everything 50/50 – cost, responsibilities, etc. And because they are best friends who genuinely have no romantic interest in each other, they feel that they can pull this off.
Pointless to continue divulging plot details, because if you’re already assuming where this movie is going, you’re (mostly) right. Trick is, where other romantic comedies are so dependent on their tested formula as a measure of monetary success, Friends with Kids seems to have no apparent interest in playing by the rules. This opens the film up to a litany of devastating (and devastatingly real) scenes in which we see the collapse of marriage and the regret of childbirth play out brutally before us.
Friends with Kids is being labeled as a comedy (hell, I’ve already used the word once as a means of describing it), and while it has moments of solid humor, it should be noted that this movie has an intensely raw edge to it that most, myself included, will not expect.
Take, for instance, an extended dinner conversation at a house in Vermont, where the gang (along with Jason’s new girlfriend, played by Megan Fox, and Julie’s new boyfriend, played by Edward Burns) is spending their New Year’s. The dinner starts well and fine, but as the conversation slowly narrows in on Jason and Julie’s life philosophies, we are privy to a laborious and painfully real argument of adult angst. That scene represents some of the best individual acting that each person involved has done. (Scott, Hamm, and Wiig, in particular, make the scene a tour de force.)
Friends with Kids was written and directed by Westfeldt, an actress who has made an impression in the indie scene by writing and starring in Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby (she’s also dating Hamm, incidentally). As Julie, Westfeldt is a revelation. She’s funny, amusing, and heartbreaking at all the right times in all the best ways. As is Scott, an actor I admire greatly (see HBO’s short-lived Tell Me You Love Me for evidence). Westfeldt’s script is also another element that shines here, and, if the film was released later in the year, could be a serious contender for awards consideration. Much like The Descendants, Friends with Kids is written how adults actually talk, which may seem like an odd thing to point out, but is a goddamn rarity among most films made today.
On the flip side, Friends with Kids is Westfeldt’s first-directed feature, and it has the stamp of such. Her editing is too rapid and her lighting is obnoxiously overbearing (never have I seen a New York bar that bathed in light). But these are very minor qualms, because the essence of Friends with Kids is one of unflinching honestly. My showing actually produced a few walkouts – all middle-aged women who had surely come to something they weren’t ready for. I say bring it on. Which is what this film does, and then some. A-