(Jennifer Westfeldt, 2012)
(Originally posted at CineVue)
Reassembling a portion of the cast from last year’s blockbusting female-oriented comedy Bridesmaids (2011), Friends with Kids (2011) sees Jennifer Westfeldt write, produce, direct and star in her latest pet project, a supposed comedy that charts the trials and tribulations of a group of thirty-something yuppies as they begin to introduce children into their close-knit milieu. Westfeldt stars as Julie, a successful investment advisor who, along with her moneyed group of friends – played by Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd – enjoy being high-flying members of New York City’s elite upper crust.
Julie’s best friend is Jason (Adam Scott), an advertising executive whose commitment issues cause him to hop from one relationship to another with unaffected abandon. They spend their respective lives in constant communication, ruminating on her ticking biological clock and his desire to become a father, only without the familial obligations and monogamy. Observing the effects that having kids has on their friends’ relationships, Julie and Jason come up with a seemingly perfect plan; to have a child together but avoid the physical and emotional baggage that comes with being married, choosing to share guardianship while seeing other people.
However, as their unconventional experiment begins to pay dividends – and the two embark on relationships with their seemingly perfect partners (played by Edward Burns and Megan Fox), the group begin to question the nature of friendship, family, life and love as fate starts to intervene. Donning a makeshift auteurist hold over the formulation of her directorial debut – like a female Woody Allen only slightly more attuned to contemporary culture, Westfeldt has sculpted a comedy of heightened realism with a predominantly adult nature, targeting audiences who prefer something resembling emotional truth.
However, whereas her screenplay for Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) featured a deft approach to creating likeable and engaging characters, Friends with Kids is a mostly abhorrent excursion into bourgeois navel-gazing, with her imbalanced ensemble resembling nothing more than mere cyphers to spout her rather flat and dated views on parenthood and fidelity. Unlike Allen, who can deftly prod at the absurdity and dramas of everyday life with pathos and humour, Westfeldt fails at creating affable human beings; instead, her cast of friends mostly play variations on nasty, self-centred and immature people who have a cynical grasp of the American dream.
In the ‘Making of’ featurette that accompanies the DVD release, Westfeldt and partner Hamm state that they derived the idea for the film from witnessing the good and bad ramifications their surrounding friends deal with whilst growing up, pairing off and procreating. Admittedly, Friends with Kids highlights a pertinent issue faced by career-driven people in serious relationships, yet she fails to do it any justice in a film so over-lit and incompetently edited that it resembles a badly handled sitcom that is more of a childish debasement than something to be taken seriously.