In the celebrity-populated opening of Friends with Kids, two couples and one non-couple attend a Manhattan restaurant and bemoan the presence of a family with small children. This triggers a discussion about the perceived burden of responsibility of children, which is then followed by the obligatory revelation that one of the couples is expecting a baby. The scene economically portends concerns about the struggles to define happiness in adulthood and also establishes a pleasant rapport between the actors (including John Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Chris O’Dowd, and Maya Rudolph, among others). The problem is that it plays like a schematic, with each line and delivery serving a very specific function in service of the film’s agenda. Given the promising elements at play, however, I hoped after a sluggish start that Friends with Kids would eventually ease up on the tendency to package its every thematic concern into its dialogue. Alas, the forced nature of the early goings is an unfortunate sign of things to come.
Written, directed, and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Friends with Kids plays its heady concept for laughs and drama. But rather than peering into the lives of the couples with children, Westfeldt instead opts to follow two non-committed (and considerably less interesting) members of the group, played by Adam Scott and Westfeldt herself. The two are best friends who decide to have a child together and skip past the marriage/relationship thing to maintain their respective independence. Both actors are up to the challenge and are given each a handful of well-scripted vulgarity-tinged one liners, but they tread a path that many a romantic comedy has gone down before and the film quickly finds itself drowning in a sea of tired rom-com conventions and situations. It comes to life whenever the remainder of the ensemble cast re-enters, but it’s not enough to elevate the material above the typical shallow comedy that Westfeldt ostensibly wants to avoid.
I confess that part of my disappointment stems from the fact that Westfeldt was behind the much fresher Kissing Jessica Stein from 2001. Both films end with Westfeldt striking up a typical hetero-normative romance, but Kissing Jessica Stein takes a unique journey to arrive there, whereas with Friends with Kids there is never a doubt how any of it will end up, nor does it fashion much more than a few errant laughs along the way. (Jennifer Westfeldt, 2012) **