It’s a long-established tradition in romantic comedies that a male and a female who are friends will be unable to resist the urge to fall in love. Here comes Friends with Kids, that seems for a while like it wants to break this mold. Does it? I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will tell you that the film’s ending did not satisfy me, and not even because of what did happen — it’s when it cut out and had the credits roll. That’s what I had a problem with.
The two lead characters are lifelong friends. The first, Jason (Adam Scott), lives in the same apartment building as the second, Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt, who also directed and wrote the movie). They’ve known each other for as long as anyone can remember, and essentially are one in the same. They hold similar values, beliefs, sense of humor, interests, tastes, and so on. They seem like they’d be the perfect couple. They’re open with each other, and have a great time together. They also both claim to have no attraction to the other, a fact they assert so frequently that it’s impossible to forget.
They are part of a group of friends, which includes two married couples. The first represents the extreme ups and downs of marriage (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig), while the other represents … domestic abuse? I’m not sure. The actors for it are Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd (donning a horrible American accent), and the former seems to be verbally abusive toward the latter. Maybe they’re just the “normal” couple. Anyway, both of these couples has at least one child, something that both Jason and Julie want, too. They come up with a brilliant decision: have a baby together, but raise it without being a couple, while still remaining BFFs.
So, they do that, much to the skepticism of their friends. This seems pretty fresh, doesn’t it? Both of them are free to see other people, and in fact encourage their friend to do so. We’ve finally broken free of the stereotype that male and female friends have to fall in love. However, we quickly see these trappings closing in on them, and before you know it, the film has to make a decision.
What does Friends with Kids have to say? I’m not entirely sure. It seems like it wants to make a point, like it wants to do something different from the norm, but then it just doesn’t. It wants to feel be more “realistic” than its brethren, but something seems off. There’s a bit of artificiality in the screenplay, and it makes the film feel false. It’s almost as if the ending was forced upon Westfeldt, or perhaps she just believes in the clichés of the rom-com genre — or wants audience to “like” the film by throwing in a more conventional resolution.
This is a film that does a good job of building its main characters. These are interesting, smart, forward-thinking people — at least, until the final third, where they turn more into the dopey eyed lovers that we come to expect from a romance film. The other characters, who show up very infrequently, are caricatures that rarely factor into the proceedings. They provide a touch of commentary and occasionally provide some conflict, but they’re almost irrelevant. This is a two-person film.
That’s not exactly a bad thing, but having these secondary characters — who initially seem like they could be more intriguing than the leads — relegated to roles that barely matter is a shame, especially when the lead characters wind up falling into cliché. Would it not have been funnier and more poignant by having them say “We told you so”? I can see that allowing the film to have its cake and eat it, too.
I didn’t think Friends with Kids was that funny. It has its moments, sure, but it works a touch better as a drama than as a comedy. Maybe it will be funnier for other people; comedies are tough to nail down, after all. There weren’t a lot of jokes after an initial onslaught, and that hurt the final product. It doesn’t help that the tone for most of the production is decidedly not on the humorous side, with one great scene in particular being downright upsetting. I mean, I really liked part, but the film is billed as a comedy, so it’s understandable if it’s not what people are expecting.
The performances, for the most part, are good. Adam Scott has rarely been seen as a leading man, although he has the depth and charisma to pull it off. Some of the supporting work is also pretty good. Kristen Wiig gets one strong scene, and Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph are as good as they usually are. Edward Burns shows up midway through, playing his role as far too nice to be believable. And Megan Fox also gets some screen time, once again doing a not-terrible job on a pretty simple part.
Friends with Kids isn’t bad. It’s not boring, it’s generally pretty intelligent, it has some good actors, and it attempts to make a point — although it misses the boat by taking the easy route out at the end. This could have been a disastrous project, but it winds up to be moderately entertaining. Is it great? No. It chickens out near the end, leading to a very unsatisfactory conclusion, and definitely flubbed a chance to be able to use the rom-com clichés while also making its point. I’m not sure if it’s worth seeing, but it’s better than it could have been.