By Bill Wine
The double-meaning title, Friends with Kids, makes it sound like a movie about a childless person whose friends have children. But it’s actually a movie about friends who decide to have a child.
And this sharply observed, Manhattan-set ensemble comedy about unconventional parenthood brings up plenty of smiles, laughs, and projected nods of recognition.
The person most responsible for this delightful concoction with an unusual romcom premise is Jennifer Westfeldt, who not only wrote, produced, and directed it, but stars in it as well as Julie Keller, a woman who decides to have a baby with her platonic best friend, Jason Fryman, played by Adam Scott.
Julie and Jason are relatively successful and well-meaning thirtysomethings with ticking biological clocks who don’t have promising soulmate prospects in their lives at present, but just don’t happen to be attracted to each other. But despite all the sleep-deprived, bickering parents of youngsters whom they see all around them, they want to be parents.
So they decide to try an experiment involving an alternative family structure. Instead of straining a traditional marital relationship, as they see their close friends doing, they’ll simply avoid any romantic entanglement and just be friends with a baby. Director Westfeldt knows that our initial reaction to this premise is, “Yeah, sure, best of luck, like that’s possible,” but she takes her premise seriously enough to avoid the predictability pitfall.
So Julie and Jason both ignore and skip the obligatory getting-married step and, instead, conceive, give birth to, and raise a child with a joint custody arrangement and separate romantic lives keeping things on an even keel. Predictably, their married friends see this as a disapproving commentary on their relationships. And indeed it is.
With the other married couples with kids played by Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, and Jon Hamm, Friends With Kids represents a virtual Bridesmaids reunion.
And Megan Fox and Edward Burns play the romantic prospects whom the new parents meet when they rejoin the dating pool with each other’s permission.
Making her directorial debut is screenwriter Westfeldt — who also co-wrote and starred in 2011’s Kissing Jessica Stein and wrote and starred in 2006’s Iris & Abby — and is the real-life partner of Jon Hamm, who is also one of the film’s many producers. She fills her screenplay with stimulating banter and commentary. But she also makes sure to include several dramatic scenes that ratchet up the intensity level — most notably an accusatory confrontation between Scott and Hamm — and they are not only well written but expertly acted as well.
The R-rated script, no raunchier than it needs to be, explores love, marriage, and parenthood ,and examines in just what ways the lives of new parents are complicated and changed.
The cast is uniformly fine, especially rising star Scott, who is quickly developing into a comedic actor with an impressive and highly watchable light touch. And the surehanded Scott-Westfeldt chemistry is just what the film needs.
So we’ll raise 3 stars out of 4 for the romantic parent-trap dramedy, Friends with Kids, as hyphenate Jennifer Westfeldt gives birth to an insightful and affable entertainment that looks at family life as frenzy with kids.