Friends With Kids: An Improbable But Palatable Yuppie Rom-Com

Reviews of the latest films.
March 9 2012 5:05 PM

Friends With Kids

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt attempt to procreate without becoming bitter drunks or frumpy harridans.

120309_MOV_friendsWithKids2
Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Jon Hamm in Friends with Kids

Roadside Attractions.

The pleasant but overfamiliar romantic comedy Friends With Kids (Lionsgate Films) is entirely the brainchild of Jennifer Westfeldt (the writer and star of 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein) who directed, co-produced, wrote the script, and plays the leading role of Julie, a New Yorker in her late 30s who’s hankering for a child but not yet ready to settle down with a man. Julie’s platonic best friend since college, Jason (Adam Scott), who lives a few floors above her in one of those miraculously affordable buildings seen only in movies, proposes a madcap plan that the two of them agree on with improbable alacrity: They’ll conceive a child together and raise it as single co-parents, while continuing to look for the true loves of their lives.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Why reproduction would appeal to either Jason or Julie is unclear, given that their once fun-loving friends have all been turned into either bitter drunks or frumpy harridans by the experience of parenthood. Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) can barely stay awake through a dinner party, while Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm), once so hot for each other they regularly disappeared into restaurant bathrooms for a quickie, now quietly trade insults over too many glasses of scotch.

Improbably enough, Julie and Jason’s babymaking plan comes off without a hitch—so easily, in fact, that Julie’s entire pregnancy zips by in a frustrating elision—and they soon have an angelic son named Joe, who’s less a human baby than a chubby-cheeked narrative device. One of this movie’s more depressing ironies is that, for all the characters’ obsession with the child as symbol—of adult commitment, emotional growth, “what really matters,” etc.—Westfeldt demonstrates little interest in actual children.

Julie and Jason surprise their dubious friends by being totally cool with the pals-as-parents setup—until they each meet other potential partners. Jason takes up with a hypersexual, child-phobic Broadway dancer (Megan Fox), while Julie falls for a hunky, absurdly nurturing divorced dad (Ed Burns). As required by rom-com tradition, the friends bring their new loves along on a group ski weekend where jealousies are fanned and dark truths drunkenly told.

The darkest and drunkest of the truth-tellers is Jon Hamm’s Ben, who, after having spoken maybe five times in the movie up to this point, suddenly rips into Jason and Julie about the irresponsibility of their decision to raise a child together, then confesses to the angry, sexless hell that his marriage has become, mortifying everyone at the table. The intensity of Hamm’s speech disrupts the movie’s smooth, glib surface—it’s a tonal break that makes us realize, by contrast, how generic and sitcom-y most of the film’s dialogue has been. It may be that Westfeldt, who is Hamm’s romantic partner in real life, wanted to give her man at least one big scene, and he certainly has the chops to carry it off. But the unintentional effect of this brief glimpse into real adult disappointment and heartbreak is that, when we return to the formulaic, easily solved problems of Julie and Jason (dudes, you’re meant for each other, get a room), we care less than we did before.

Friends With Kids isn’t an awful movie by any means: It’s a polished, palatable yuppie rom-com in the Woody Allen-lite tradition, sort of When Harry Met Sally minus the snappy Nora Ephron dialogue (and back off, haters, because I’m very fond of When Harry Met Sally). But Westfeldt’s script sets its sights disappointingly low, given the comic gifts of her cast. Adam Scott, a Parks & Recreation regular, makes a fine screwball leading man, even if he’s slightly mismatched with the delicate, tremulous Westfeldt. And whenever Hamm and Wiig or Rudolph and O’Dowd wandered through a scene, I wished the movie would veer off and start exploring their characters’ child-ravaged marriages rather than the lead couple’s dopey dilemma.

There’s been some disagreement among critics about this movie’s final lines, in which Julie and Jason, having finally realized they belong together, exchange a filthy-yet-romantic promise of impending sexual fulfillment. In spite of my general distaste for Friends With Kids, let me cast my vote on the side of those who liked the ending. I wish more of the film had had that scene’s fresh mixture of casual banter and breathless intimacy, instead of sounding like half-remembered dialogue from a movie we’ve all seen too many times before.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.