New parents, same old gags
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Mar. 9, 2012
"Friends With Kids" stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott, but more important, it co-stars Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd. Any resemblance to last year's breakout comedy hit "Bridesmaids" is purely intended in a film that seeks the same kind of liberated raunch but too often succumbs to talky, edgy-for-its-own sake glibness.
The title of "Friends With Kids" - which Westfeldt wrote and directed - might lead viewers to think they're about to see a scathing social satire that will deftly skewer the pieties, hypocrisies and radical personality transformations when awesome besties become boring, self-satisfied 'rents.
Westfeldt, however, seeks not to berate breeders but to join them: When Julie (Westfeldt) and her best friend, Jason (Scott), find themselves bemused singletons within their social circle of marrieds-with-children, they decide to have a baby together - not as lovers, but as single parents unencumbered by a conjugal relationship.
It's a premise explored before by such pioneers as Madonna and Rupert Everett and Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman in romantic comedies that solved the how-do-you-keep-them-apart quandary by making Everett's character gay and Bateman's an unwitting sperm donor. In "Friends With Kids," Julie and Jason are supposedly not the least bit attracted to each other, a conceit that requires less a suspension of disbelief than a total lack of sentient consciousness to earn the audience's buy-in.
For those willing to play along, though, Westfeldt manages to provide some pungent observations, especially when it comes to the stresses, fissures and fault lines that dot the terra incognita of new parenthood. (She makes her directorial debut here, having written and starred in "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Ira and Abby.")
Wiig and Hamm play their once compulsively amorous couple now mired in bickering and resentment with weary, bitter honesty. As usual, Rudolph's flawless timing and unforced wit are wasted in a supporting role (between this and her scene-stealing turn in the television show "Up All Night," it's past time for her to take the lead).
In fact, "Friends With Kids" is at its best when it's playing with the group; when the story introduces more traditional romantic complications - in Julie's case, with a handsome contractor played by Ed Burns, in Jason's with a comely dancer played by Megan Fox - things begin to feel as canned as a prime-time sitcom ("Friends," with kids?). Too many sequences feel generic, from the unexamined privilege that serves as the movie's cultural backdrop to the now-requisite scene of a man changing a diaper while covered in baby poop.
What's more, in an apparent example of the new post-Judd-Apatow world we live in, Westfeldt feels the need to inject a gratuitous degree of vulgarity into what could have worked perfectly well without all the vagina and penis jokes. The film's final lines - which should have sent viewers home on a cloud of well-earned resolution - land with a particularly noxious thud.
To imagine Hepburn and Tracy delivering the same dialogue is to contemplate a half-century of rom-coms circling the drain.
That sour taste is all the more toxic in light of what's gone before - a soaring, deeply affecting soliloquy delivered by Scott, who turns out to be the breakout star of "Friends With Kids." Best known for his work on the TV show "Parks and Recreation," Scott delivers a revelatory performance, moving easily from deadpan sarcasm to genuine, sharply defined feeling.
In the film's best scene, at a drunken New Year's Eve dinner with the group, Scott and Hamm - who's equally on his game here - engage in a verbal pas de deux that's startling in its fury and honesty. It's then that you realize that "Friends With Kids" works fine as filler (to quote a line from the movie), but it could have been something tougher, sweeter and so much more.
Contains sexual content and profanity.