Music Feature

Film Review: Friends With Kids

by Piers Marchant
Pillow talk with crib notes.
friendswithkids_med

Dir. Jennifer Westfeldt
Score: 4.7

When we first encountered Jennifer Westfeldt, in the beginning of the aughts, she was getting into a relationship with another woman, even though she herself had always been straight, in 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein. That film, which took a slightly off-beat topic and hammered itself into passably amusing mainstream, starred Westfeldt in the role of Jessica, the sexually confused, neurotically self-conscious protagonist who couldn't seem to find the right mate. Her new film, made 11 years later, stars Westfeldt as Julie, a sexually-confused, neurotically self-conscious woman who can't find seem to find the right kind of mate -- only this time with the additional hitch that she really wants to have a child.

Fortunately, she has a ready-made potential father living in her very building, her arch, sarcastic best friend Jason (Adam Scott). One night after witnessing the horror of parenthood with some of their other miserable friends (including Kiersten Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd -- in other words, most of the cast of last year's Bridesmaids), who are suffering through the malaise of post-childbirth marriage, Julie and Jason hatch a plan to conceive a child as best friends, avoiding all the eventual let-down of failed romance, in order to end up with a child they can share between them. As with all the best-laid plans of New York cosmopolitans who think they've beaten the system, things quickly go awry when the two separate parents begin to fall for each other at alternate times.

The script is lean and amiable enough, but it telegraphs its ineffectual punches even more than the standard rom-com, of which, it must be said, this film is clearly striving to be. There's some fun early, as the reality of the horrors of child-rearing are laid bare, but before too long, we're stuck in the kind of standard, drippy back-and-forth that has become the most tired kind of staple of the genre. Conceivably, Westfeldt was attempting to up the ante by casting Edward Burns and Megan Fox as the respective romantic partners of her two protagonists, but in attempting to make their resulting relationships more believable, it only serves to further push the story into a land of fairy tales; that is, unless you truly believe Fox would get trampled over by Westfeldt's wispy, neurotic charms.

The years between Westfeldt's films, it must also be said, have also not necessarily added to her dramatic chops. In Stein, her awkwardness in front of the camera added to the character's neurotic nature; here, with her eyes in constant squint and her upper lip seemingly frozen flat, she can't possibly convey the complexity of her character in a way that really resonates. It's understandable why Westfeldt, the writer, would want to place herself in the middle of the action, as the emotional lynchpin in a story about a woman accepting herself (yet again); but Westfeldt the director should have realized just how badly the role was miscast. The exceptionally talented Wiig, who is given damn-all to do here otherwise, would have made a far better Julie, with more realized chemistry with the leading man.

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