Writer, director and star Jennifer Westfeldt has done something quite special with Friends With Kids. While many multi-tonal films suffer from imbalance as one genre takes over the other, Westfeldt’s movie is the perfect blend of laughs and drama, anchored by some terrific performances and a solid story.
In the story, Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) are best friends living in a world dominated by couples. Their closest pals (Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd) are all wedded and having children, but Jason and Julia are plagued by an inability to commit to anyone. Wanting to raise kids of their own but seeing how they put stress on a marriage, they devise a plan to have and raise a baby together, but continue dating other people. While the plan works swimmingly at first, things begin to become complicated when Jason begins seeing a young woman (Megan Fox) and Julie gets together with another man (Edward Burns).
It’s the realism of both the people and the relationships that makes Friends With Kids work better than your standard romantic comedy. As the six friends sit around a table in a New York City restaurant you hear conversations that you may have had with your own pals. The movie is set on an accelerated timeline – after the first sequence we immediately jump ahead four years and there are multiple smaller jumps later in the film – which allows Jason and Julie to mature and change without it feeling rushed or phony. Emotions hit hard and then wane with time just as they do in real life as bonds both form and break. All of us either know these people or are these people.
While Friends With Kids is most definitely a comedy – if you can’t tell that by just looking at the cast something is desperately wrong – but what will take you by surprise is how it earns its drama and deftly changes tones. Both Scott and Westfeldt are immensely likable and charming, making them fun to watch during the bright happy times, but also sympathetic when things get serious. Both actors have to deal with heavy emotions, including both received and unrequited love, and it’s treated impeccably.
One of the most interesting things about the title is its duality – referencing the fact that the main characters are themselves friends with kids while they also happen to have friends who have children. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fully live up to it. While Jason and Julie’s unique relationship makes for solid entertainment, in the middle of the movie the other couples almost completely fade into the background. In most cases this wouldn’t be a problem, but the script does such a great job establishing the dichotomy between what Julie and Jason have compared to their friends that you just want more of it – not to mention that Wiig, Hamm, Rudolph and O’Dowd are a few of the more gifted comedic actors working today. It does come back by the end of the story, but you do miss them when they’re gone.
Westfeldt’s directorial debut may not live up being the ensemble film that the long list of names in the cast suggests, but it’s still an impressive first effort. It’s impossible not to love or, at the least, feel for every character because they’re so relatable. There are highs and lows that will bring both laughter and tears as Friends With Kids establishes itself as one of the most emotionally authentic films of the year.