Review: Friends With Kids

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Out of boredom as much as anything else (I hadn’t been to the cinema in almost three weeks) I decided to take a chance on Friends With Kids. I remember Jennifer Westfeldt’s first feature, Kissing Jessica Stein, with mostly positive memories, though I couldn’t tell you much about it now. I kind of feel the same way about Friends With Kids–mostly funny, occasionally annoying.

Westfeldt, who wrote and directed, also stars as a single woman whose best relationship is a platonic one with her college friend, Adam Scott. These relationships do exist–I have very good platonic friendships with women–but somehow in movies they seem to be inauthentic, as if the writer is bending over backwards to convince us of their possibility. Scott and Westfeldt have never been intimate, frequently citing they aren’t sexually attracted to each other; Scott is too short, Westfeldt is too flat-chested.

Their best friends, two married couples (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm), are parents of small children. This is portayed as some sort of ring of Dante’s Inferno, as the kids’ misbehavior makes their parents snap at each other like alligators. Scott and Westfeldt realize they want children, but don’t want to end up hating each other like their friends. They have the bright idea to have a child together, but not live together as a couple.

This premise, sit-commish as it is, makes for some good scenes. The general disorder of a house with small children is handled well, especially with Rudolph and O’Dowd, who bicker as it if were sport. Hamm and Wiig are presented much darker, with Hamm, in a well-written and acted scene at a vacation ski cabin, drunkenly telling Scott what a foolish idea the whole thing is.

A few things could have made this film better. One is to have jettisoned the smarmy tone–the word “vagina,” which has a newly found charm on network sit-coms, is thrown around so much here you could make a drinking game out of it. Do we really need that many jokes about a woman’s postpartum, stretched-out vagina? Scott, a good actor, is a bit too piggish for Westfeldt’s character to be that tolerant of him. In the climactic scene, he tells someone he’s going to “fuck the shit” out of them. I’m dubious that a woman of any character would swoon at hearing that.

I also found Westfeldt to be a competent but bland actress. It might have been more a lively film if Rudolph or Wiig had played the central character. Taking the lead, while she also directs, seems like hubris.

The ending is predictable to anyone who has seen a movie. Our couple date other seemingly perfect people (she hooks up with Edward Burns, he with Megan Fox) but does anyone doubt they will be made jealous by these relationships? If this is predictable, at least it’s generally pleasurable on the way there.

My grade for Friends With Kids: B-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

3 responses »

  1. he tells someone he’s going to “fuck the shit” out of them. I’m dubious that a woman of any character would swoon at hearing that.

    This makes me both something approximating proud…and something very much the same as disgusted at how many times the women I’ve been with (and -redacted-) have swooned at this phrase.
    Am I getting this life thing all wrong?

    Have you ever seen her second written feature? I thought it was quite effective. ira and Abby. I liked Kissing Jessica Stein (and so did my wife at the time) and I thought her second feature was even better, but no one ever saw or heard of it.
    I think she’s married to Jon Hamm.

  2. The opening 30 minutes or so are truly dire; a dismal mixture of obvious plotting and scenes mixed with pseudo-smart, slick dialogue which wasn’t smart or slick. Throw in a lot of sexually crude and blunt talk self-consciously put in and I was drifting off already.

    But surprisingly, it picks up quite a bit in the middle stages. The dynamic of characters played by Ed Burns & Megan Fox give the film a significant lift and give it some dramatic interest. It culminates in a terrific scene at a dinner at a ski lodge where there’s a confrontation between Scott & Hamm’s characters that’s excellently written and acted and easily the high point of the film.

    Alas, all this promise is thrown away in the last 20 minutes as it succumbs to tediously contrived rom-com cliches that this film has nowhere near the goodwill to salvage.

    The film has a terrific cast, although many of them are wasted. I enjoyed O’Dowd’s performance but he’s hardly in the second half of the film.

    As for Westfeldt, I have to largely agree with the general sentiment that she didn’t quite have what it takes in the central role (her co-star from Kissing Jessica Stein, Heather Juergensen, would’ve been much better in the role). And tbh, I was somewhat distracted by what appeared to be her heavily botoxed face.

    Overall a failure and a step down from Kissing Jessica Stein, but I would be interested in seeing another work from Westfeldt in the future.

    Rating: C

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