Friends With Kids condescends to fine comedic cast
Low-budget rom-com treats relationship issues with kid gloves
Sometimes it seems like the only things that keep family life from being perfect are 1) the parents, and 2) the children.
The wan rom-com Friends With Kids floats a concept that could be called Platonic Parenting. Thirtyish pals Julie and Jason (writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt and "Parks and Recreation's" Adam Scott) note with dismay that their married best friends turn into snarling, sleep-deprived wretches once they have infants. Jason and Julie both want kids but hate the idea of being trapped in a loveless marriage.
Since they're BFFs but aren't attracted to each other, Jason and Julie propose having a kid together without actually getting together. The hip Manhattanites decide that Jason will knock up Julie, they'll share custody of the offspring, and keep dating other people. What could possibly go wrong?
Friends With Kids unfolds as a low-budget production of a script suited for the Hollywood mainstream. Westfeldt establishes Jason and Julie's friendship by showing them call each other to chat about whether they'd rather be killed by shark or alligator, even if it's the dead of night and they both have one-night stands in their beds. Their mutual "Would you rather ... ?" game is the kind of screenplay device you never find in real life.
You might have high expectations for the film since Jason and Julie's friends represent a Bridesmaids reunion, with Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd as the loud, sloppy couple, and Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (Westfeldt's real-life longtime companion) as a more quietly seething couple. Friends With Kids centers most of its jokes on baby poop and Kegel exercises, and shows none of the gross invention of Bridesmaids' raunchy slapstick. Occasionally Westfeldt crafts a "Seinfeld"-esque one-liner, such as Jason's complaint that one date "over-French-pronounces French words."
Early on, Jason and Julie establish that he's too short and she's too flat-chested to be each other's ideal physical types. Once they have the baby, however, the shared emotions and work begin fostering intimacy even as they each find people who might be their dream partners. Julie hits it off with a successful, strapping divorced businessman (Edward Burns). Jason hooks up with a busty dancer (Megan Fox) who doesn't want kids but enjoys video games like Call of Duty. (Sure she does.)
As a filmmaker, Westfeldt seems a kindred spirit to Edward Burns, since they both specialize in bland, impersonal ensemble romances set in New York. She should have cast someone else in the lead, since she overdoes Julie's mousy lack of self-confidence until the character seems like a total doormat.
Scott's boyish smile and unforced charm give Jason so much appeal that it takes awhile to realize that he's a sexually immature creep. Scott's joshing delivery undermines Jason's snarky, almost contemptuous remarks about Julie's physical imperfections. Jason proves capable of passionately defending Julie as a parent and a person, but he also practically recoils from her touch.
Friends With Kids tries to create suspense over whether Julie or Jason will ultimately get together, but Westfeldt doesn't address the more complex questions about if they should. Jason seems so unready for a serious relationship, one wonders if love would be wasted on him. Westfeldt proves too interested in tidy endings to explore the questions Friends With Kids raises about attraction and contented couples. If the independent comedies don't try to transcend rom-com clichés, what will?