By Mandy Griffiths
If people lived their life by the movies, no man would ever want to get married because once they put a ring on it their gorgeous wife would become shrill and disapproving and pretty much just exist to suck the fun out of their lives. I have a personal theory that this portrayal of wives in movies is one of the main reasons so many men (in real life) are turned off by marriage. Also weddings are expensive. I suppose we can’t blame the movies for that…or can we?
By the same token, married couples having kids in movies almost certainly means the end of romance, the beginning of explosive diarrhea, and a whole lot of not sleeping and being a slave to someone who can’t form complete sentences in between. This is the central premise of “Friends With Kids”, the third film by screenwriter/actress, first time director Jennifer Westfeldt.
Two friends, Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) have the kind of close friendship usually only seen between genders when they are of different sexual persuasions. But they have the same sexual persuasion, namely heterosexual. Take note of this, it could be important later. Over the years they have watched their friends, couples Ben (Jon Hamm, Westfeldt’s real life partner of 14 years) and Missy (Kristin Wiig), and Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd) succumb to marriage and child rearing, and of course, lose touch with their childless friends and just the fun things in life in general. Julie and Jason are horrified to see their friends’ former romances completely squashed under the weight of Thomas the Tank Engine, and, because they both still want kids and time is running out for Julie, they decide to get this whole kid thing out of the way with someone they are not attracted to, namely each other. This is of course so they can bounce back and enjoy endless romance with someone they are attracted to, only having to look after said kid half of the time. And they are right, it totally works and they live happily ever after, having the best of both worlds…okay, just kidding.
Now, I have to admit up front that I don’t currently have children (nor am I married), so the representation here of child rearing and romance gone bad I cannot pretend to evaluate. Can I imagine meeting up with couple friends who have had kids to find them strung out, tired and grumpy? Yes, yes I can. Does every child in the world throw a tantrum whenever you see them? I would think, and hope, probably not as much as it happens in this film. But I have to say I did find this movie a lot more charming than I expected.
It is tightly scripted, and many of the conversations that take place between the friends and around the dinner table were surprisingly realistic and charming. Westfeldt has assembled an amazing group of actors here, most of them straight out of “Bridesmaids”. Adam Scott, of “Parks and Recreation” fame plays the hell out of romantic lead Jason, and even Megan Fox does a great turn as the young, beautiful and unaffected Mary Jane (named after the shoes). The sex scene between Westfeldt and Scott to create their baby is genuinely adorable, and whoever they cast as baby Joe was so freakin cute, I don’t care how many tantrums he had I want one.
But…while neatly circumventing the traditional romantic comedy tropes for the first two acts by doing the love and marriage story in reverse, the third act gives in completely to its routes, and it takes too long to get where it needs to go. No romantic comedies, no matter how enjoyable, needs to go for two hours. And while Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph and O’Dowd act the hell out of what they are given, their presence makes up the real highlights of the film and they are overall very underused and underdeveloped.
This is not your typical rom com fare, and that’s always a plus for me. “Friends With Kids” is a sweet and sharp film. It is not without faults, but with a clever script and appealing leads (and babies), it is definitely worth visiting, explosive diarrhea and all.