March 12, 2012

Review: 'Friends with Kids' Without the Romance

Written and directed by actress Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), Friends with Kids explores marriage and parenthood though friendship with an absence of romance, sort of. Notably, Westfedlt and boyfriend/producer/co-star Jon Hamm are childless and unmarried. Her idealistic themes feel a tad altruistic with a premise that seems logical, but clearly removes the perils of human emotions.

Julie and Jason (played by Westfeldt and Adam Scott) decide to avoid the romantic failings of their married friends, played by Hamm and Kristen Wiig, Chris O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph, and have a child together as friends without romance or being a couple purposely out of wedlock, and pursue other romantic interests. The film is a Bridesmaids reunion with slightly different pairings, delving into relationship dynamics and how children affect marriage, romance, and friendship.

The best part of the film is the superb acting and how the couples dealt with life differently. Each actor elevates scenes of adult drama and silly comedy. Scott, in particular, raises the bar with fine dramatic acting, balancing fatherhood with personal romance, and a best friend who happens to be the mother of his child.

My biggest problem with the film was Westfeldt herself. I found her directing and starring role admirable, but her Julie felt too perfect, put together, and appealing, going against the premise. Westfeldt glowed and radiated throughout the film, holding it all together, and juggling motherhood. Scott delivered a great, fully realized dramatically comedic performance, artfully executing his dialogue.

Westfeldt avoids most clich├ęs and expectations, not always for the better. The couples of Hamm/Wiig and O'Down/Rudolph at the beginning were ugly caricatures of miserable married people to varying degrees without much thoughtfulness or nuance, further convincing Julie and Jason of their lifestyle choice. At times, the film felt more like dealing with affluent, upperclass problems than everyday perils of childrearing.

Friends with Kids is a partially unsatisfying romantic comedy while remaining a thoughtfully entertaining character drama filled with great acting, individual scenes of mature writing, and ultimately endearing comedic direction. Its exploration of marriage and parenthood fall a bit, but are saved by true moments of authentic friendship and character relationships.

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