Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are successful New Yorkers who have been friends since college. They’re now in their thirties, and are the only two in their circle of friends to have avoided marriage and children. They watch their friends – couples Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) – as they become increasingly short tempered and detached from their social lives as they raise their children. They then determine that the pressures of romance and marriage got in the way of being responsible parents. Jason and Julie both want to have a child, but at the same time, they want to avoid the relationship pitfalls their friends have fallen into. So they come up with the idea of having a child together while simultaneously being free to pursue other relationships.
I’ve heard of casual sex before, but casual parenting is a new one on me. It’s the basis of Friends with Kids, which not only stars Jennifer Westfeldt but was also written and directed by her. On the levels of narrative, structure, theme, and characterization, this movie is profoundly wrongheaded. It regards the decision to have a child not as a serious commitment but as the basis of a social experiment. The leads go through the first ninety minutes or so believing they can have their cake and eat it too, only for them both to have inevitable dime-store epiphanies about whom they love and what they want out of life. In the middle of all this is their toddler, a son named Joe, who never asked to be a part of his parents’ relationship game-playing any more than he asked to be born. These people are appalling.
Westfeldt develops the lead characters as a pair of witty urban philosophers, always with the constant observing and repetitive jabs at their respective love lives. Jason is by far the worse of the two, as he spends much of the first hour making sarcastic remarks and crude sexual references, especially about breasts and vaginas. Both are such incessant talkers that it’s a wonder how Westfeldt found enough paper to print their dialogue on. You hear them gab away, caring not about their son or their new partners or even their obligatory revelations about one another; you just want them to shut up. The same can be said for the four supporting characters, especially the men. Alex in particular has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, which makes me wonder why Westfeldt tries to pass it off as yet another joke.
Into Jason’s life enters Mary Jane (Megan Fox), a dancer and theater actress. She seems to be the perfect match for him; apart from her noticeable feminine assets, a plus for Jason, she’s also not looking to have kids and knows how to have the kind of fun Jason likes to have. How can this work with Joe in the picture? Not a problem – Jason simply drops him off at Julie’s place. She does the same thing to Jason when she goes on her dates. It must be nice having the luxury to dump your kid off at someone else’s house when it best suits you to do so, because, as we all know, that’s what parenting is all about. She doesn’t fare as well as Jason in the dating department until she meets Kurt (Edward Burns), a divorcee, a father, and an all-around nice guy. He’s probably the only decent character in the entire film.
Two people have found their ideal partners. Or have they? Julie eventually begins to wonder if she loves Jason as more than a dear friend and a baby daddy. Indeed, the two are intellectually and emotionally compatible, but that only deepens the mystery of how their son came into the picture. On the basis of how they were established in the opening scenes, neither Julie nor Jason would believably come to the decision to have a baby. They’re simply not the parental types. In spite of this, Westfeldt depicts them both as loving and attentive parents, doting on Joe in every scene they share. This comes off as grossly inauthentic. To an extent, it also comes off as cruel. If they love Joe so much, why would they be in an open relationship during his formative years? This would only confuse him.
As the film nears the end, it transitions from an awful alternative parenting comedy to a soppy romantic drama, one that hinges on a hopelessly predictable outcome. I wouldn’t have minded this so much if the film had been founded on a premise that actually worked. You know me – I give passing grades to romcoms all the time, usually when no one else does. There’s more to it than my willingness to see them as the fantasies they truly are; there’s also the fact that, by and large, such fantasies are harmless, good-natured fun. In the case of Friends with Kids, we’re dealing with a fantasy one should never indulge in. Parenting is not about working your child into your dating schedule. It’s a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week commitment. If that’s too much of a sacrifice, perhaps you should consider getting a dog.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS Written and Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Ed Burns and Megan Fox I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before but indulge me a moment. Couples, no matter how much chemistry they have, be that physical or emotional, will inevitably crumble to pieces when they bring kids into their lives. For years now, love and intimacy have been seen as the killers of freedom … more
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