(Roadside Attractions) “Would you rather die by a shark attack, or an alligator attack?” Friends with Kids opens with Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) asking her longtime platonic friend, Jason (Adam Scott), this comically dark and fatalistic question which subsequently sets the tone for this wonderfully surprising film.
Julie and Jason have been friends since college and manage to share just about everything, with the exception of any sexual chemistry. They are both attractive, single thirty-somethings living out successful, independent careers while residing in the same apartment building in Manhattan. After watching with unflinching horror as the personal lives of their close friends devolve into sexless, resentful, and chaotic relationships with their spouses upon having children, the two decide that relationships and children don’t mix. In order to beat the system, they decide to have a kid together while just staying friends.
This seemingly absurd decision manages to play out believably and comically as the two characters try to pragmatically approach this unique situation. Jason pledges that he’ll “…be one hundred percent committed to this, half the time.” Interestingly, their motive for having a child together is only partly driven by the ticking of Julie’s biological clock. Since both characters identify as atheists, they seem especially quick to latch on to the importance of passing on a part of themselves. In a sense, having a child together becomes a method for escaping their own mortality.
Much to the chagrin of their friends, things seem to go off without a hitch for the platonic duo as they shift effortlessly between their independent lives and their new roles as parents. But complications finally arise when the happy couple jumps back into the dating pool. Thankfully, first-time director Jennifer Westfeldt refuses to settle for the cheap laughs and feel-goodery that a more traditional romantic comedy would likely embrace. Instead, she manages to blend this complex exploration of today’s fractured outlook on monogamy, marriage, and family with genuinely entertaining situational humor that permeates nearly every corner of this film.
Both Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt deliver genuine performances that help shape these likable yet flawed characters while sharing an intricate chemistry throughout the film. Jason’s selfishness and Julia’s insecurities are painfully obvious at times, yet their love for one another and their new son provides a reassuring warmth that keeps the film focused.
Helping to flesh out the humor in Friends with Kids is the superb supporting cast, which at first glance begins to look like a Bridesmaids reunion. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are paired up as an exhausted husband and wife whose mutually deprecating humor provides some of the film’s biggest laughs, while Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig are seen fighting to keep their marriage together. Finally, the film introduces Megan Fox and Edward Burns as Jason and Julia’s respective love interests.
It seems like a rare treat these days to find a film that carries this level of sincerity and good nature in its brand of comedy while still managing to be downright funny. Equally praiseworthy is the care in which the film’s arguably controversial subject matter is introduced and played with. We are never asked to praise the idea of starting up such a non-conventional family only to approach the idea with an open mind. Consequentially, Friends with Kids comes across as an assured directorial debut for Jennifer Westfeldt that proudly refuses to take the easy road.
For Fans Of: Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, Young Adult, Kissing Jessica Stein
Why We Like It: Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut, Romantic Comedies that that are more than skin deep, getting to see Chris O’Dowd acting awkward around Megan Fox
Lionsgate Films' 'Friends With Kids' is released in theaters Friday, March 9, 2012.