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Theatrical Review: FRIENDS WITH KIDS is more like “Time Share Baby”

Rachel Fox

March 9th, 2012

"Cancer or aneurysm?"

Questions like these pepper conversations between unlucky-in-love platonic besties Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) in FRIENDS WITH KIDS, the latest  rom-com offering from writer-director Jennifer Westfeldt.

The film opens with the uncoupled Jason and Julie at a swanky restaurant dinner party amongst their gorgeous circle of coupled friends (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm; BRIDESMAIDS alum, all), one of which announces they are expecting. Naturally, everyone insists that their marriages will never succumb to the changes incurred by children (notably, a decrease in sex and an increase of general misery). Cut to four years later, when Jason and Julie's circle have managed to become the predictably disastrous marital train-wrecks they had sworn to never become: the women are overworked shrews and the men have devolved into useless, unsexy schlubs.

Jason and Julie see how their married friends' social lives have changed (for that they see as the worse) once they started having children. Both Jason and Julie "want kids," but question whether it's possible to have them and still maintain a happy marriage without compromising their identities in the process. Buoyed by their own weird neurosis and complicated notions of happiness, the two sworn not-in-lovers conclude there is a logical way to still have the kid they want without all that "other stuff." Deciding to forgo love and marriage, they head straight to baby carriage.

Despite a somewhat promising opening and a proven cast dynamic, Westfeldt's script falls off the rails early on, hurtling the audience towards moments that are false, inane, and painfully awkward (not the funny-ha-ha kind, either). Compounding the overall inanity of these characters (all of whom seem only capable of addressing each other with words like "doll" or "sweetie") and the choices they make is that they are utterly unlikable. Julie, who doesn't show an ounce of maternal interest after having her son, is utterly fixated on returning both her vagina and the rest of her body to its pre-baby state so that she can find "the love of her life." The same can be said for Jason, whose paternal instinct only kicks in when he figures out he can use his baby as a magnet for attracting pretty women (Megan Fox) in the park.

Neither of these two are the least bit endearing or interesting, and I never cared what would become of them (and yes, you can guess what becomes of them). They even fail to demonstrate anything resembling genuine warmth or even love towards their new child, who basically becomes a commodity to be shuffled between his parents (who are, conveniently, also neighbors in the same New York City apartment building).

Part of what makes FRIENDS WITH KIDS so disappointing is that everyone in this film has been better elsewhere - especially Maya Rudolph, who explored a similar story but to far greater and more meaningful consequence in AWAY WE GO. At the very least FRIENDS WITH KIDS proves that good actors can elevate lousy material - which is saying a lot, because this was really lousy material.

In many ways, the premise of the film seems a progressively natural fit for Westfeldt, whose previous films KISSING JESSICA STEIN  (a single straight woman tries batting for the other team rather than sit on the bench, alone) and IRA & ABBY (a couple of singletons who barely know each other spontaneously get married, problems ensue) explored similar themes. I really wanted to like the film because of Westfeldt; it's such a rarity to have a female writer-director helm a studio project like this, let alone one with such a great cast.  It's a shame she didn't do something less predictably conventional and more original, edgy, or thoughtful with a story that has already been played out with mediocre (THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION) and awful (THE NEXT BEST THING) results.

Besides Westfeldt's problematic script is her overall performance, heavy on idiosyncratic mannerisms  and an odd delivery that became annoying very quickly (something I hadn't felt about her in her previous roles).  I found myself focusing less on the story (which became trite, complicated, and boring) and more on Westfeldt herself, who reminded me of a weak approximation of Lisa Kudrow (who would probably have done a more convincing job in this role).

Further to the point is an overall "unnaturalness" about Westfeldt which one can't help but pick up on during close-ups magnified on a big screen. Her forced "expressions," which often seemed pained or out of sync with the dialogue being delivered contributed to an overall feeling of unease and disconnect. Having never thought of these two women as looking anything like each other, it was odd how focused I was on Westfeldt's uncanny resemblance to Kudrow; a subsequent viewing of 1998's KISSING JESSICA STEIN helped explain why. When coupled with an already bad script, this particular aspect of my experience with FRIENDS WITH KIDS proved distracting enough to  ultimately detract from anything redemptive within the film itself. As such it has left me feeling bothered, sad, and uncomfortable.

I can't honestly recommend FRIENDS WITH KIDS. It's neither cancer nor aneurysm; more like a toxic combination of the two.

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