by ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS
Friends with Kids
dir. Jennifer Westfeldt
At college orientations across the nation, wizened sophomores tell freshmen the same thing: “School, sleep, or a social life: choose two.” Watching Friends with Kids, the new film from writer/director/actress Jennifer Westfeldt, I found myself wishing she’d applied the same principle to filmmaking. The film stars Westfeldt and Adam Scott (of Party Down, Parks and Recreation, and your friends’ sex dreams) as two longtime friends who decide to have a child together, rather than with romantic partners, in order to avoid the chaos they’ve seen visited upon their married-couple friends who have children. It’s a good movie that’s frustrating to watch because of how easily it could have been a great one: if only Westfeldt had realized she couldn’t do her own lead role justice.
Westfeldt is better known as an actress than as a writer or a director, actually: she’s had film roles here and there, along with decent stints in a number of television shows, including Notes from the Underbelly, 24, and Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Friends with Kids is her directorial debut and the third feature she’s written, along with 2006's Ira & Abby and her breakout film, now a decade old, Kissing Jessica Stein (she also starred in both of those).
Friends with Kids has a funny, heartbreaking, smart script — and a perfectly serviceable director, not a stylish or showy one. Westfeldt is, unfortunately, not especially compelling onscreen, with a tendency to swallow her lines and to maintain a static physicality. They are simple problems that a director could pretty easily have corrected — except, of course, that the director was Westfeldt herself.
Friends with Kids is not like Friends with Money, the peculiar, sweet Nicole Holofcenter film, in which the title is meant to invite contrast (the protagonist’s friends have money, while the protagonist does not), though it starts out that way. Julie Keller (Westfeldt) and Jason Fryman (Scott) are professionally successful, attractive pals in their mid-thirties who have a dozen-plus years of friendship under their belts and who even live in the same building. They are single and childless, while the two couples who constitute their best friends are just starting families.
Given the configuration of the supporting cast, it’s fun to imagine Friends with Kids as a sequel to Bridesmaids in which Maya Rudolph steals sweet Chris O’Dowd away from Kristen Wiig, who’s forced to settle for dickish Jon Hamm again. All four supporting players are excellent: Rudolph and O’Dowd as the harried, disorganized parents who are still, ultimately, pretty happy; and Hamm and Wiig as the sort of couple who can’t keep their hands off one another until having kids reveals that they never had anything in common.
The movie is a romantic comedy, so it’s pretty easy to guess what will happen to Jason and Julie after they hatch their scheme to bypass romance and marriage and head straight into split custody. They fall into an easy routine together —Jason wears a gray American Apparel hoodie in one scene; Julie has it on in the next— and then Julie finds to her surprise, upon hearing about a new girl Jason’s dating, that she’s actually jealous. (Mary Jane, for what it’s worth, is played by Megan Fox. Who wouldn’t be jealous?) Though she doesn’t have much trouble attracting suitors — most notably Kurt, played by Edward Burns, the kind of man who has strong values, a handsome face, and Mark Kurlansky histories on his bookshelf — Julie realizes she can’t help pining for Jason.
It is difficult to ever be completely invested in Julie, because of the constant distraction of knowing Westfeldt wrote these lines for herself. Replying to a compliment from Kurt, Julie says, “I mean, I can put myself together, you know, but — I just have good hair. I can put myself together, and good hair.” Westfeldt does have good hair, but I wish she’d left that kind of navel-gazey revelation out of her movie.
Friends with Kids is saved, though, thankfully, from fully falling victim to Westfeldtian myopia — because, although Julie has the most screen time, I don’t think she is actually her film’s protagonist. Adam Scott is the standout here, and Jason’s is the journey we are most interested in watching. He starts off as the kind of thirtysomething cad who can actually, earnestly list “huge tits” as a requirement for girlfriends (of Mary Jane, he revels: “She’s a skinny, flexible dancer with a big rack. What are the odds?”), and ends up as a man who honestly deserves Julie’s adoration. Given Westfeldt’s own investment in this film, you can bet she isn’t going to shortchange Julie romantically — she deserves to have everything, doesn’t she?
Alexandria Symonds is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Michael Ondaatje. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here and she tumbls here.
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