Review: Friends with Kids (2011)

Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph

Anyone who’s anyone knows that I’ve always been a sucker for anything even remotely insightful regarding the complexities of romance in the 21st century. Authenticity aside, it seems that each new addition to the hit-or-miss romantic comedy canon can’t help but succumb to cliches despite their best efforts to bombard us with witty banter and emotionally resonant heart-to-hearts between costars. Friends with Kids is assuredly a carbon copy of your archetypal contemporary romcom, ballsy premise aside, however the individuals Jennifer Westfeldt’s chosen to illustrate along with an apparent distaste for marriage manage to outweigh everything the film has going for it by way of its mildly effective serio-comic presentation and likable ensemble.

Marriage is bad, folks. At least that’s what writer/director Westfeldt implies when her character Julie and long-time platonic best friend Jason decide to have a baby for the sake trimming the emotional fat from a (potentially) not-so-healthy romantic relationship. The two go along with their plan at the behest of their closest and increasingly distraught best friends, and before you know it, a baby boy’s been brought into the world and Julie and Jason are now the world’s most unconventional parents at the head of an equally unconventional family. There are laughs to be found here and there, most of which are subdued and appropriately sidestep any form of overt crassness that’d distract from the film’s attempts at shedding light on how tough it is not to resent your spouse once a kid’s born.

Humor aside, nothing can quite compensate for how generally unlikable each and every character is from the get-go. They’re morally inept, emotionally crippled and so one-track-minded in their ruminations on inevitably falling out of love following the birth of a child that the entire production just feels… pessimistic. I’m not an avid fan of children myself, but one thing’s for sure: you’re either ready to start a family or you’re not and, in this case, it seems that all of Julie and Jason’s mutual friends can’t seem to get their shit together, volunteering to bicker publicly with their respective significant others and storming out of the room rather than working things out in the privacy of their own homes. One scene in particular, involving Adam Scott’s Jason and Jon Hamm’s Ben as they argue over the logistics of raising a child in the manner the former and Julie have chosen to, successfully showcases the film’s more dramatic chops, only from here on Friends with Kids unsubtly makes the likely transition from the appealingly unconventional to conventional as things wrap-up rather predictably and in as corny a fashion as possible.

Flaws in the script aside, Adam Scott as the male lead is as amiable as ever, aptly portraying the womanizing Jason with as much gusto as he’s become accustomed to showcasing here and there, even though his chemistry with costar/baby mama Westfeldt feels a bit clunky as her performance fails to stack up to his. A supporting cast of Bridesmaids stars including Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm amply if sporadically add to the film’s supposed “insight” pertaining to the idea of healthily maintaining a modern family, although certain characters’ involvement are few and far between and remain as such especially during Friends‘ lackluster, soupy latter moments.

To be fair, Friends with Kids is at least different in the sense that it’s bold enough to take an unflinching look at the perils of starting a family in this day and age, more specifically whether or not the lovers responsible for starting said family can retain the feelings they once shared for one another. Originality aside, every single character feels shallow and simplistic, so deadset on their views on relationships inevitably crumbling in the wake of the birth of a child that Julie and Jason’s little experiment unexcitingly culminates in a predictably sappy manner. Points to Westfeldt for at least attempting to explore this lesser-explored niche of modern relationships, but the entire film manages to only be mildly entertaining thanks to unlikable characters, questionable pacing and failing to wholly sidestep romcom convention.

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