REVIEW: Friends with Kids Loses Its Nerve in the End, But Does Right by Adam Scott

Movieline Score: 6

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.]

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  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Re: 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.

    I think we're doing our best to create a society where people are fairlyproperly identified by types -- where being of lower class or of higher class, out of such and such a school or another, being a certain profession or another, really does tell you mostly all what you need to know about them; you'll be bang on when you assume the rest. It's cruel (and immensely dumb) -- anti-human, anti-you realization -- and particularly so to those who don't have kids. Without them you've IDed yourself as a dead-end, one either without sufficient human in you to fight through an antipathetic age and continue or be fecund naturally for being right to your time, and who really after 40 had better show themselves useful in facilitating the lives of the chosen, else look to be the denied still with some life to surely-with-sick-purpose get through before into their natural abode, the graveyard. (Roger Ebert, a man without kids but from a different era, could plausibly talk of spreading memes; younger than that the best you can do if you’re looking sterile but are still possessed with great talent that is recognized, is link yourself to some kind of renown institution, and thereby still carry on afterwards, respectfully, amidst the architecture of the living. Time to start on that is now though; soon enough you'll just end up seeming like the creepy old Dracula who wanders for dinner amongst other people's kids.)

  • Kenji says:

    As a parent, I am quite looking forward to this movie, to laugh at myself and the whole breeder/non breeder dichotomy.

    Re the feelings of superiority that the childless may sense emanating from the child-laden (er, blessed), from my perspective it has never been about your failure to propagate. There are too many people in the world already, I find your childlessness to be laudable.

    No, it's envy. What do you do with all your free time? What is really bizarre is when a single person says, "Oh man, I am so tired," or "that weekend sure went by quickly."

    Breeders look at such statements in amazement. You people are tired because you went to a club, or rock-climbing, or had too much cappucino while finishing your blog in a cafe. Not because you were watching your kid barf its guts out at 3 in the morning, or because they stepped on the cat on the way to the bathroom and couldn't get back to sleep, or because you spent all yesterday baking cookies for their fundraiser!

    To sum up, I don't think you're pathetic. I just think that I am really, really awesome not to have gone psychotic yet.

  • says:

    I know what you’re thinking… this looks like a pretty good movie, right? Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, that guy from Bridesmaids, that other guy from Bridesmaids…

    You’re wrong.

    I saw a screener for this film a few weeks ago, unless something has drastically changed for the theatrical release, this is an unfortunately terrible movie. I hate to say it, I really do. Jennifer Westfeldt, I’m really sorry, I wanted to like this film and I just didn’t. The trailer looks fun and lighthearted, “oh, let’s have a baby as friends,” and the first half of the movie is. Then it gets uncomfortably serious and hard to watch for far longer than my attention.

    You’ll regret going on a date to this movie

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Well, I saw this. I left perhaps fifteen minutes early -- just after the movie decides it's putting the two together -- so to keep the film something I've an easier time keeping with me. I think his speech at the ski cabin dinner was terrific -- a friend letting another friend know, they are HUGE to them. They should have kept it at that; maybe allowed her to fall in love with him for awhile, but stuck with his fully believable assertion that he's not physically attracted to her -- at all. Keep it grown up, please.