Jennifer Westfeldt makes her directorial debut with the romantic comedy/drama Friends with Kids. The film takes on the idea of two best friends having a kid and keeping their relationship completely platonic. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt lead the rounded cast that also features the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph. Friends with Kids is equally funny as it is dramatic, meeting in the middle and becoming a well-written film that’s a lot better than it looks.
Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are two best friends. They’re the only single ones out of their group of friends. Everyone else is married and in love. There’s Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig); the couple that can’t keep their hands off of each other and then there’s Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd); the more settled down couple. Both couples provide Jason and Julie with a first-class look at how relationships tend to go after marriage and kids.
Jason and Julie notice over years that having a kid and staying married really takes a toll on the overall relationship between two people. Love is tested and it makes people grumpy and not fun to be around. Ben and Missy are introduced to the film after having a sexual encounter in the bathroom, because they just can’t keep their hands off each other, but as the film goes along their real problems and struggles come forward. Leslie and Alex are more of your basic couple, the kind that argues a lot over little things like changing the baby’s diaper or answering the door while the other one is busy. Their dilemmas are equally present, but they get through things because that’s what married couples do.
Still, Jason and Julie see problems in both couples. They both want a kid, but they don’t want to emotionally deal with the results of having a kid and dealing with your partner. They like the idea of having a child and raising it, but still being single and free and able to find the right one, but not having to complicate it. So, they have a kid together and agree to equally raise it.
The rest of the story deals with the obvious expected struggles that come from such a decision. Friends with Kids shows the complexity of relationships and the difference between making them work and being in love. It touches up on all aspects of relationships, both between friends and loved ones and it does a great job at coming across as something real. We’ve all seen these different types of couples; ones that treat a relationship like a job and go through the steps to make it work opposed to ones that are truly in love and enjoy every second of it, both the good and the bad.
Jennifer Westfeldt does a great job translating all of that to the screen. Friends with Kids feels natural, like something everyone has witnessed. It doesn’t matter if you’ve personally been in these kinds of relationships, because chances are you know people that fit every character in this film. The film approaches everything with such a first-hand view.
Pacing is also the films best friend. Things start out fast, with jokes barely having any time to compute. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt have amazing chemistry and the film relies on that believability. The film starts out kind of light, dipping into the thick material, but adding a humorous spin onto the whole situation with Scott and Westfeldt’s constant need to joke and ask openly depressing questions. As the years go by the story slowly progresses into a full-fledged drama.
Things are still funny, but not as consistent and upbeat as before. Now things are real and with this new-found reality comes serious life-learning. Feelings get messy and misinterpreted as Jason and Julie have conflicting emotions for each other, while trying to keep to their agreement. Both have partners at some point in time in the film, but both feel the need to be with each other.
It’s a plot point that was bound to happen, but it doesn’t feel like it’s simply following the script when it happens. It comes about on its own and it takes several routes getting there. Along the way the two face various problems, along with their best friends. Jason and Julie are the focus of the film, but Ben, Missy, Leslie and Alex are always right behind them.
Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph are surprisingly not that funny in the film. They don’t do a lot of joking and when they do it’s the type of humor that will have you laughing, but only briefly. Jon Hamm and Alex O’Dowd are very much the same way. It’s like the supporting cast is all given enough good lines to remind you that this particular actor or actress is in the film, but nothing to make you quote them at a later time.
The film is instead focused on giving the best lines to Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt. They’re quick on their feet and always moving and constantly pumping life into their characters.
I’ve got to give it up to Westfeldt for directing, writing, producing and acting in the film. I don’t recall seeing her in anything else before this, so I was pleasantly surprised with how well she managed to hold her own against the likes of Wiig and Rudolph.
Friends with Kids is the kind of romantic comedy/drama that turns out much better than it rightfully should be. I was expecting more laughs than anything and while the film is funny, it’s more so a drama. And that works fine because the entire cast is more than able to provide the proper dramatic turns needed for a film like this. It never gets to the point of being a depressing and sad mess of emotions, but it walks closely, sticking on the edge of drama and comedy. It takes a few minutes to get into the film and really catch onto the characters and their problems, but once it gets going it never stops.
It quickly morphs from a light comedy into a drama and the change takes over without a notice. That’s what makes Friends with Kids a good film. It has the ability to discuss the entire scope of relationships in such a short time, but it never sacrifices its characters or sells them short. It’s a fully developed, funny, character drama that deals with life, relationships and what matters the most.
Friends with Kids – 8/10