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Friends With Kids

March 18, 2012
Friends With Kids

Is Friends With Kids the legacy of Bridesmaids? Is this the sort of film that gets green-lights and wider distribution deals in the wake of that one’s success? If so, then I say to bring it on and more. A smart, funny, and thoughtful romantic comedy aimed at grown-ups, not just overgrown children may not have been the Hollywood formula, but it’s a welcome change.

Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) are friends in their mid-to-late 30s, living in the same building in Manhattan. As is familiar to anyone around that age, their friends are all starting to have kids, which leaves them — not even married — yet another step behind. You know the old story about a guy meeting a new girl and suddenly disappearing from his circle of friends? Kids are worse.

And it doesn’t seem like they do their parents any favors either. Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) are frazzled and living out in Brooklyn; Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) have entirely lost their passion for each other and are careening towards a divorce. So why complicate a romantic relationship with child-rearing? Indeed, why don’t Julie and Jason just have the kid they both want together, but as friends? It’d be like raising kids as a divorced couple, but with neither acrimony nor alimony, and they’re free to have their relationships with other people without the pressure of wanting to have a kid.

Of course, life isn’t quite as simple as that, or we wouldn’t have a movie. Their friends react with a mixture of offense and pity. And things just get more complicated when Jason meets the young, lithe dancer, Mary Jane (Megan Fox) and Julie meets the tall, handsome Kurt (Edward Burns). Because this is still a romantic comedy, and certain rules apply, even if I’d personally prefer a somewhat messier ending.

There are sure to be some people who complain about how any non-traditional family portrayal isn’t non-traditional enough for their tastes, and indeed this isn’t the most groundbreaking story in the world. Still, Westfeldt does a fine job as a writer and director; she pushes more at the edge of the current mainstream than at the fringe, as she did just as thoughtfully in Kissing Jessica Stein. Much of the time her dialogue feels very natural, but at selected moments she switches to a more Socratic, didactic sense. A long, tense argument with all eight characters around a dinner table allows some pointed — and fairly-asked — questions to be aimed at Julie and Jason, and allows for a solid response. But it’s clearly not the only possible answer, and it doesn’t really settle the matter, either.

The film can easily serve to germinate further discussions, not only about this particular idea, but about other variations on the traditional sense of family which are just now becoming more widely possible. As a single person in my own thirties who aspires to DINKiness, it’s great to see characters in a similar position not portrayed as aberrant for once.

Smartly written, smartly directed, and with great performances by Wiig, Rudolph, Hamm, Scott, and Westfeldt herself, Friends With Kids is one worth making an effort to see when it opens near you. Let’s start demanding more like this.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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