REVIEW: Friends with Kids Loses Its Nerve in the End, But Does Right by Adam Scott
Jennifer Westfeldt's sort-of romantic comedy Friends with Kids is on to something, even if in the end it suffers from a failure of nerve. This is actor and screenwriter Westfeldt's directorial debut (she co-wrote and starred in the 2001 feature Kissing Jessica Stein), and it's polished to the point of shallow glossiness -- it could benefit from being a little rougher, a little messier.
But the picture at least attempts to wrestle with the notion that there's no single right way to raise a family or navigate a partnership. And it acknowledges, if only fleetingly, the way very well-meaning people who are parents can often be incredibly smug toward those who aren't, insinuating that their own lives are somehow more meaningful because they have kids who run them ragged. At one point Westfeldt and Adam Scott, who play best friends Julie and Jason, ponder how much their friends changed after they had kids. "I don't know these people anymore," Jason says, bewildered after he's just attended a dinner party where frazzled, distracted parents did nothing but snap at one another and at their children, completely unable to enjoy themselves or one another. "These people are mean and angry."
The tide shifts when Jason and Julie decide to have a child together without becoming romantically involved. They've been close friends for years, and they live in the same apartment building -- why not? The experiment goes surprisingly well, and the two end up with a pretty good kid who really does seem to be enriching their lives. In one of the movie's most gratifying sequences, their traditionally coupled friends, played by a Bridesmaids reunion cast including Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (Westfeldt's partner in real life), speculate about how out-of-control the new parents' lives must be, only to find that Jason and Julie's unorthodox arrangement is extremely efficient and agreeable.
But Friends with Kids winds up turning on itself, becoming a more conventional comedy than it sets out to be. In the end, Jason and Julie do fit themselves into a mold, although at least the transition doesn't come easy. Westfeldt's Julie is too adorable by half: She's a cutie-pie neurotic, and the appeal wears thin quickly. (You can hardly blame Jason for falling, temporarily, for a shallow vixen played by Megan Fox.)
But as writer and director, Westfeldt has at least done right by Adam Scott, a fine comic actor who, until now, has been relegated to second-banana roles. A highly unscientific poll conducted here and there among my women friends, straight and gay, has revealed that all women love Adam Scott. I have not been able to determine the source of his charm, but it appears that in addition to being good-looking (but not too good-looking), he tends to come off as the kind of guy who has flaws you could live with: He's a little smart-alecky but also smart and funny; he might leave his underwear on the floor, but he remembers to hang up his towel; and so forth. As I said, it's all unscientific.
Friends with Kids proves that Scott can carry a movie: His comic timing is crisp and on-point, but he's also capable of playing it straight when he needs to. He's marvelous in one revelatory scene where he enumerates Julie's best qualities, and as written, it's the sort of dialogue that could head right into pukefest territory, fast. Scott gives Friends with Kids some necessary edge, and though the picture overall could still be much sharper, from scene to scene, he's key to its integrity. No wonder his Jason is superdad material.
[Editor's note: This review appeared earlier, in a slightly different form, in Stephanie Zacharek's Toronto Film Festival coverage.]