Friday, March 16, 2012

Friends With Kids

Pleasant and harmless, Friends With Kids is more or less a glossy, R-rated sitcom where attractive yuppies (most of which are Bridesmaids alum) bitch and moan before adjusting to the fact that their lives are fairly good.  Written, directed and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, it marks her third in a sort of rom-com trilogy of sorting stuff out-- starting with the amusing, bi-curious meet cute of Kissing Jessica Stein (2002), the path to marriage in Ira & Abby (2007) and now this-- a next step in relationship status, children.  Westfeldt has a witty point of view, she's attractive, as neurotic and stammering as any Woody Allen creation, and has an intelligence that's hard to pigeon-hole mixed with a brittleness ready to crack.  In other words, America's sweetheart she's not exactly, which undoes, at least partially, the want my cake and eat it to mentality with Friends With Kids-- which at it's best is an amusingly naughty ensemble piece about the messiness of modern families and at it's worst, another indulgently predictable title to modern romantic comedies.

First we meet Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt), two successful Manhattan singles, best friends since college, both of whom seemingly enjoying a hetero- Will & Grace-like relationship that while manufactured by the movies, plays out nicely thanks to the easy-going chemistry the two actors share with one another.  He's a womanizer, she's on the verge of spinster-hood-- the first scene details their relationship succinctly when they call each other late one night, while both in bed with their respective dates for the evening.  It's cute and inappropriate; clearly they're made for each other.  We then meet their married friends (played with generous brio by Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wigg and Jon Hamm), both couples have children and the tenuousness of child rearing alarms both Jason and Julie-- they don't want that.  They don't want to become the dour, angry people they see their friends becoming upon the arrival of children.  The solution for the childless BFF's-- conceive together, share custody and continue romantic pursuits later.

What sounds a bit irresponsible and hopelessly naive as the treatise of the film actually rears some witty and tender grown-up dialogue-- it's perhaps a shame that Westfeldt didn't fight the urge to shake some of the saltier words which nearly negates the purpose.  It's also a bit of shame that Friends With Kids starts frankly and promisingly as a witty alternative to its banal genre only to dovetail right into it, and that the supporting characters are merely arbiters for a different stance on parenthood-- Wiig sadly in the least utilized and given the least flattering role, while on contrast O'Dowd (Wiig's Bridesmaids love interest) proves best in show with his randy, low-key charm.  At the same time, however, there is something of value in Westfeldt's voice, a slightly different variation on the neurotic funny girl angle-- she's kind of hard, a bit too verbose yet too soft-spoken at the same time.  And there's something about Scott as well, whose played many variations of the same prickly holier than thou sort before, but in a strangely deadpan way, he's a new sort, and appealing romantic lead.  B-

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