Dir. Jennifer Westfeldt,USA, 107mins, 2012
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Jennifer Westfeldt’s intelligent adult rom-com makes a refreshing change from the Judd Apatow brand of toilet humour splattered dramedys which have dominated the genre for the last few years (admittedly, some of those have been funny). Unapologetically grown-up, brutally honest, and featuring a hugely impressive, note perfect ensemble cast, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more satisfyingly real (in comparison to typical Hollywood conventions anyway. The characters still lead ridiculously affluent lives) form of big screen entertainment this year.
Written by, directed, and taking centre stage, Westfeldt plays unlucky-in-love Julie, a thirty-something singleton fearing that she’s fighting against her biological clock after seeing her closest friends paired up and with kids. Ben and Missy (Hammand Wiig) are borderline nymphomaniacs with parenthood a couple of years off, and Leslie and Alex (Rudolph and O’Dowd) are already expectant when introduced. The other corner of this hexagonal group is Adam Scott’s Jason; an incredibly self aware ladies man who just happens to be platonically close to Julie.
The twist comes when these two decide, against better advise from their inwardly offended friends, that they will have a child together to forgo the rigmarole of mating rituals and a potentially unhappy marriage and split custody fifty/fifty, dealing with raising a child as best friends in a mature and stable environment. The film then charts the varying degrees of separation and drama of all three “families”.
Before the rom-com alarm bells start ringing and you shout “I bet they get together at the end”, pause for a moment because Friends with Kids avoids such clichés for 99% of its running time, it’s just a shame that the 1% happens when it does (you’ll know what I mean when it plays out). For the rest of the film you get some resonant honesty about life as a couple, as a parent, and the harshness of matters of the heart. Particularly in one stand-out speech of inebriated brilliance from John Hamm, conjuring up an essence of Don Draper’s loveable bastard routine to tell his “friends” exactly how their relationships are viewed from the outside.
This is an actor’s piece; O’Dowd continues to impress in Hollywood fare, getting most of the films awkwardly funny lines, and the under-the-radar Scott almost steals the film from Westfeldt with his confident charm. But it’s our auteur that impresses the most with her vulnerability as the object of unrequited love and unshowy hand behind the camera. The script is never forced and all of the relationships benefit from such natural word-play. Plus, anyone who manages to coax a half-decent performance from Megan Fox deserves praise. Perhaps the biggest failing of the film is the underused Wiig, barley given enough time to make an impact but prominent in all of the marketing, Bridesmaids 2 this is not.
Some may be offended by the perceived message that parenting is child’s play if you cut out your own sniping at one another, but Westfeldt’s intention to paint an inherently good protagonist supersedes such skepticism and results in a movie as appealing as it’s ensemble cast.