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Friday, March 9, 2012
Friends With Kids
Best Buds Make Baby At Night: Stay Friends In The AM?
Adam Scott as Jason and Jennifer Westfeldt as Julie in Ms. Westfeldt's
comedy-drama "Friends With Kids". Roadside
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Friday, March 9,
There isn't a romantic comedy-drama that's been
better in the last few years than Jennifer Westfeldt's poignant, funny and
refreshingly adult film "Friends With Kids", an effecting movie with excellent
performances, most notably from Adam Scott, Ms. Westfeldt, Chris O'Dowd and Maya
Rudolph. The film, Ms. Westfeldt's excellent directing debut, opens today
nationwide in the U.S and Canada.
Set in New York City over several years, "Friends With Kids" is a perfectly
pitched ensemble drama that initially looks like a television sitcom.
Julie (Ms. Westfeldt) and Jason (Mr. Scott) are lifelong best friends.
They live in the same apartment building. Their good friends, or,
"Bridesmaids" buddies (Ms. Rudolph and Mr. O'Dowd; Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm)
are married. Both married couples have kids. Being married and
parents appears messy, tiring and stressful to late-thirtysomethings Julie and
Jason. Julie, whose biological clock is almost at midnight, wants a child
without commitment, and, doing what best friends do, Jason proposes to assist.
Their married friends are incredulous, barely polite second-guessers of what
they see as a cockamamie idea.
"Friends With Kids" essentially asks whether kids complicate friendships more
than they do marriages, if at all. If so, is it the kids who change things
or is it the relationship couple growing older, or is it the natural evolution
of a marital relationship -- or any romantic relationship -- that as it matures
certain flowers and passions will die or diminish, while other new ones spring
to life. Do Julie and Jason truly want to be where their friends are?
Is the grass greener on the other side? They get sneak previews from their
friends but ignore their own reviews of the sneaks. Julie and Jason date
other people in the interim after the birth of their son, trying to eat their
cake and keep it too.
Ms. Westfeldt delves into the emotional entanglements middle age, child-rearing
and relationship changes between couples and friends with children inevitably
bring. Leveled with tension, raw emotion, insight and honesty, especially
in the film's second half, "Friends With Kids" is written with a keen
understanding of the complexities of everyday life and inherent challenges
child-rearing brings in this new century, where the definition of family has
expanded thanks in part to technology and how people live together.
In her typically comedic and thought-provoking way Ms. Westfeldt, who wrote the
terrific films "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Ira & Abby", delves even deeper here
in what is her most serious film. Her direction is sharp, with scenes that
percolate, especially one lasting a full ten minutes late on. It's the
best and most piercing ten minutes, wonderfully acted by all involved. The
laughter of the early parts of "Friends With Kids" dissipates and the customary
lighthearted truth-bombs the writer-director delivers with pleasant smiles and
cute snickers grow heavier, more truthful and devastating, with nary a smile to
In letting scenes play out in real, authentic and unvarnished fashion, Ms.
Westfeldt picks at raw nerves, exposing them and emotional pain and discomfort,
diving in where many other romantic comedies and dramas fear to tread.
Full credit to her for delivering intelligent, credible adult situations to the
big screen and investigating them boldly and sincerely. Ms. Westfeldt has
always tapped into male anxiety and inadequacy so well and hilariously, be it
the boss who pines for her title character in "Kissing Jessica Stein",
be it Ira, the
neurotic lead character her Abby romances in "Ira & Abby", or, here, Jason,
whose masculinity takes a few hits to the solar plexus. By contrast the
director's women are generally comfortable in their skins, and they don't slip
on banana peels to get laughs. They are funny, foolish, sharp and smart in
a pure way. (Ms. Westfeldt's Abby character is a perfect example.)
A throwback to the edgier, more provocative, searing sex comedy-dramas and
family dramas of the 1960s ("Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice") and 70s ("Carnal
Knowledge", "Kramer vs. Kramer"), "Friends With Kids" boasts a
similar mix of adventure, adult risk-taking and hilarity. The film also
boasts a fine ensemble cast. Two of its key players are Ed Burns as Kurt,
a single man with whom Julie becomes romantically involved after giving birth,
and Megan Fox as Mary Jane, a hard-working Broadway dancer Jason falls for.
Both are effective presences in a film that balances its well-rounded portrayals
of commitments and friendships of varying degrees.
Wiig as Missy and Jon Hamm as Ben in Jennifer Westfeldt's
comedy-drama "Friends With Kids".
Ms. Westfeldt models characters who are well-meaning, fairy-tale dreamers:
knowing yet somewhat naïve, smart but unafraid to dare to be reckless, carefree
adventurers. Her New York City men and women believe in doing things
against type and convention, in other words: the hard way. They make the
best of the toughest situations, and in "Friends With Kids" we see that same
endeavor, and warmth, underlying even the most cynical of motivations.
Where many films exploit their onscreen kids and make parenting them
"The Change-Up" (2011), a brutal, transparent
comedy, explored the swapping of a single, commitment-free life for a married,
parental one -- "Friends With Kids" makes its children natural, placed in
everyday situations unblemished by theatrics. Parenting is demanding but
never expedient or horrifying. Ms. Westfeldt's film is strongest when its
adults challenge each other in real conversations about life. These
engagements, some funny, others not, are ripe with truth that is often brutal
and unsweetened. This is how adults talk, at least real adults in the real
world, and many of the adults I know.
Whether or not you are a parent (and I am), "Friends With Kids" is a wholly
relatable experience. It will move you in potent and unexpected ways.
I've heard fellow film critics cry in the dark while watching this film, and
sniffles will not be an unusual occurrence this weekend at your local multiplex.
The emotional power of "Friends With Kids" is genuine. The film resists
manipulation with such gimmicks as oh-so-syrupy-cute children to win over hearts
and melt polar ice caps. "Friends With Kids" travels in its own singular,
forthright and daring way, and while there's predictability in some of the
events Ms. Westfeldt's film is a thoroughly enjoyable and accurate chronicle of
contemporary relationships and life dilemmas. Ms. Westfeldt parodies
domestic life with a breeziness and fun that is delightful. In one funny
scene Julie and Jason make child-rearing effortless as if gently mocking
parenting. Their friends have a WTF? moment witnessing it all.
Adam Scott is memorable here in comedic and dramatic scenes and his Jason, a
snarky, cynical, insensitive sort, is the best work he's done on film.
While he resembles Tom Cruise, Mark Ruffalo and Ashton Kutcher, Mr. Scott's
sharp features and intense expressions make him occasionally uncomfortable to
observe on screen, specifically in this film, and because of these attributes his character's vulnerability
is all the more palpable and profound. Mr. Scott explores the most naked
moments Jason has and executes each mark, nuance and evolution within so
subtly and convincingly. Ms. Westfeldt, with her smooth, striking and open
features displays similar strengths, building an emotionally complex Julie, who
effortlessly transforms from confident to crumbling in an instant. Julie,
a competent, well-contained person who poses unenviable "pick one" questions
about death, is a full-blooded woman who deep down knows exactly what she wants.
I enjoyed watching the director transform Julie into a mature, wise person who
sees beyond a lot of things in life. What's most impressive is that Ms.
Westfeldt's skills as an actor -- she's been acting for years -- are
even better here than in prior films she's only written, including her well-played Abby in
"Ira & Abby". Similarly Ms. Wiig demonstrates that her dramatic chops are
sterling, and in her small but pivotal role her intensity and simmering contempt
for her predicament resonates. Mr. O'Dowd, a standout, adoringly plays a man-child teddy bear
type, with comedic overtures punctuating his Alex character's I'm still
10-years-old-and-loving-it attitude. Ms. Rudolph plays the fiddle of range
so ably as Julie's closest female friend and confidante. She is (as are a
great many black actresses on film), the ready, sturdy advisor, a role she played to Ms. Wiig in "Bridesmaids", but here she gets to do more, namely put Mr. O'Dowd
through his paces.
Of the many films I've seen so far this year, none have been better, or
enthralled me more, or made me laugh more or hit me harder with a mix of pain
and joy than "Friends With Kids". Ms. Westfeldt flaunts a real comedy
romance drama for grown-ups to sink their hearts, minds and teeth into, and even
the most discriminating of audiences will not be let down. "Friends With
Kids" sharply and wittily assesses the challenges of 21st century families,
delivering uproarious moments of comedy and raw honesty while maintaining a
literate, adult focus on the harsh truths about the realities of relationships
I loved and adored this film's passion, heart, humor and dead-on honesty.
I loved "Friends With Kids". Underline, loved.
With: Lee Bryant, Kelly Bishop, Cotter Smith.
YouTube review of "Friends With Kids"
"Friends With Kids" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
sexual content and language. The film's
running time is one hour and 39 minutes.
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