Friends With Kids - SideReel Review

Friends With Kids - SideReel Review

Take one part Knocked Up and two parts When Harry Met Sally and you’ll have a fairly good idea of the look and feel of Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids.

The movie stars Westfeldt and Adam Scott as Julie and Jason, close friends whose larger circle of pals include horny newlyweds Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm -- Westfeldt’s real-life partner -- and Kristen Wiig), as well as married couple Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd). As the film opens, all of them are enjoying being young, affluent Manhattanites. However, as the two couples within the group settle down, Julie and Jason decide they’ll have sex, just once, in order to have a kid; they’ll raise that child together, but they won’t be a couple. While their plan goes better than expected for a while, their relationship grows complicated when Jason starts dating an attractive dancer (Megan Fox) and Julie gets serious with a successful businessman (Edward Burns). As these longtime friends sort out how they really feel about each other, they see unexpected problems threaten their friends’ marriages.

One of the best aspects of Friends With Kids is its ensemble. These six people really do feel like a tight unit of friends, and the actors all have a comforting charm and ease about them -- their camaraderie is familiar and soothing. Sadly, the movie turns out to be more about the impossibility of a man and a woman being just friends than it is about the larger group.

In this regard, Westfeldt was sharp to cast Adam Scott as her partner. He’s an actor with skillful comic timing and he’s not afraid to be a jerk, a fearlessness that becomes even more apparent as Westfeldt has made her own character too likable. The final act of the movie is all about the guys in this group, particularly Jason and Ben, needing to grow up, and while that may play well for a female audience, it throws off the balance achieved between the sexes earlier in the picture.

In one of the major scenes later in the film, the whole gang, including the two new significant others, have gathered in a lodge for a vacation. At dinner, Ben delivers a scathing, alcohol-fueled monologue pointing out how unhappy he and everybody in the room are. It’s a marvelous piece of acting, but it signifies a profound change in the tone of the movie that Westfeldt hasn’t fully prepared us for. It’s a dramatic ambush that, for all its positive qualities, signals that the weakest part of the film is about to begin.

However, just because she mishandles the third act doesn’t mean Westfeldt has failed. There’s genuine warmth and laughs mined from the draining schedule of raising an infant, and in an age when few people are trying to make smart comedies aimed at adults, it’s easy to forgive the film its flaws. She’s crafted a charming directorial debut, loaded with witty lines and winning performances. When her plotting skills match her ability to crank out good dialogue, expect Westfeldt to take her place among indie-minded writer/directors like Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko.

-Perry Seibert


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