Review: Friends with Kids (2012)

However important acting is in a movie, you can have a good movie with bad acting. Unfortunately, you cannot have a good movie with a bad story. Such is the case with Friends with Kids, a mediocre movie with some terrific actors who are failed by their preposterous script.

The film comes off as some kind of hybrid between the raunchy comedies of Judd Apatow and the semi-sophisticate comedies of Woody Allen. It has plenty of dirty jokes and sentimentality, but it also tries to be an honest portrait of rich people in New York. This mix doesn’t gel as well as it should.

Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, who also stars in the movie, Friends with Kids tells the story of Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt), two best friends living the wealthy urbanite life in NYC. Jason and Julie are soul mates but platonic ones, and although they aren’t attracted to each other (something over-emphasized to breaking point in this film), their friends treat them as a de-facto couple.

When their friends (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, and Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph) have kids, Jason and Julie, not having found the perfect sexual partner to raise a family with, decide to have a kid together, although remain platonic friends free to have relationships with other people. Talk about progressive parenting.

In essence, Jason and Julie end up having a child together while remaining only friends. Of course, as this is essentially a Hollywood romantic comedy, complications ensue.

The script for Friends with Kids is not a complete failure, although it certainly could have benefited from some deeper thinking. It has some funny lines, although overly filthy at points, as if to make up for their lack of wit. The actors are all terrific. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are especially good as Jason and Julie’s closest friends who seem perpetually exhausted by their two young children. The film also understands just how life-changing having a kid is.

But that’s all the film understands about children. It seems to use the kids as merely bringers of conflict and fodder for jokes about poop and cock blocking. It doesn’t explore any of the children in the film as characters in their own right, nor even seem to take seriously the notion of children.

As well, the relationship between Jason and Julie is ridiculous. Perhaps I was biased when watching Friends with Kids because I had recently watched When Harry Met Sally…, the comedic great that famously argued that men and women can’t be friends because sex gets in the way, but I feel that Jennifer Westfeldt needed to take a lesson from that movie in how to properly explore the notion of a man and a woman who are best friends but are destined to be lovers.

Jason and Julie’s platonic soul mate relationship is too contrived. They agree on every topic of importance, they live in the same apartment building, want the same things out of life, and even admit that they love each other, but don’t get together because they don’t find each other attractive. It is only because of the characters’ overwhelming superficiality that they aren’t together to begin with, and even this superficiality is ludicrous. Frankly, Scott and Westfeldt are far too attractive, and I don’t buy that each character would fail to be attracted by the other.

While When Harry Met Sally... constantly dances with the notion of Harry and Sally's attraction for each other, Friends with Kids doesn't even seem to think this is a viable option until later in the film. Thus, it only really begins to explore its characters when the plot necessitates their getting together.

New parents will likely get a kick out of the jokes about raising a child that Friends with Kids mines, but the film exists in a bubble of preposterous relationships and superficiality. If the entire conflict of the film depends on keeping these characters romantically apart, perhaps some real conflict beyond the characters’ idiocy should have been created in order to do so.

5 out of 10

Friends with Kids (2012)

Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt; starring Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Chris O'Dowd, and Maya Rudolph.