Friends With Kids (2012)
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns
Let’s talk about romantic comedies. It will likely not surprise anyone to know that generally I am not a fan of this ‘genre’ of film, and very rarely will I willingly go to see something marketed as a rom-com unless there’s also a healthy dose of zom. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible for me to enjoy a romantic comedy, although I struggle to name any off the top of my head that I recall enjoying. The predictability is a big issue, knowing that the two romantic leads will undoubtedly end up together (unless it’s a Nicholas Sparks film in which case someone will DIE spoiler alert). On top of that you have numerous tropes sprinkled throughout the film that just become lazy and boring. But they are successful. There is something about them that draws an audience, and the studios know that, and we all know that, and as much as I dislike them because they’re fake, that’s WHY people love them. Movie critics are vastly different from the general movie-going public, and I think it falls to the REASON people go to movies. Most people see films as escapism – they want to see happy people doing happy things because life is kinda shitty a lot of the time. For me, I want to see life and truth on the screen, something for me to relate to and nod and say ‘Yes, I am ALSO miserable!’ Hence why I love Charlie Kaufman.
But I digress. I’m here to review ‘Friends With Kids,’ the first romantic comedy I’ve gone to see in the theatres in ages. The cast had a lot to do with that, Adam Scott in particular and his work on Parks and Rec has become a favorite actor of mine. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I was hoping for a fresh take on the genre rather than a rehash of all the tropes I’m used to. What I ended up getting was something in between, a fairly traditional rom-com with a few fresh ideas mixed in and even some odd (but refreshing) subversions to the tropes.
The plot goes like this – Best friends and completely platonic lovers Jason and Julie are having trouble in the dating world – he’s a serial dater and she’s just plain unlucky. Their two best friend couples are now married and with children and seem miserable because of it. After talking about the state of their friends’ lives Jason and Julie realize they agree that they want kids – but none of the ‘kill-the-romance’ feelings that come with it. So they come up with a plan – have a child together, raise it together with joint custody, split everything down the middle, then try and find ‘their guy/girl.’ That way they already have the parenting stuff down so when they meet ‘the one’ the romance stays alive. It’s an interesting plan that their friends are not on board with, seeing it as an affront to their lives, but ultimately it seems to work. They’re both happy! Until those pesky feelings for each other start to get in the way.
The whole plot is a unique take on the ‘platonic friends develop feelings for each other’ story, but that’s where the problems lie. I liked the idea of these two friends raising a kid together. I wanted them to stay best friends for the whole movie, but sure enough the feelings come into play and there’s a weird power struggle where I was never sure which way the movie would go. There were plenty of moments where I applauded the film for it’s subversion of the usual tropes, but ultimately it still stayed on the usual rom-com course.
Generally the performances are all solid. Adam Scott was fine, although casting him in this role is baffling to me. Adam Scott is the perfect nerdy awkward but charming guy, and here he’s playing a ‘player’ who loves big boobs? I just couldn’t believe he had these personality traits, and was successful at it. Like, Bradley Cooper could play that role. Adam Scott can only play that role if he was a creepy guy who strikes out more than not (Jack Black’s character from Shallow Hal, for example). It didn’t help that we didn’t get much in terms of who his character was aside from the above and that he hates religion (the movie opens with a shot of Richard Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ because that’s how you establish character traits).
It was actually really interesting to see Kristen Wiig play a pretty much straight dramatic role. She has a couple funny quips here and there but overall her and Jon Hamm’s relationship is the most depressing and awkward. There’s a wonderful scene (probably my favorite scene) where all the characters are together at a cabin and Jon Hamm has words with Adam Scott about their respective relationship statuses and it was just filled with such truth and honesty regarding platonic friendships that the eventual romance unfortunately dampened the effect of that speech.
And I have to give a shout out to Chris O’Dowd who was the most rational and charming person in the cast, possibly because that man has trouble NOT being charming and awesome. But I really liked his and Maya Rudolph’s relationship as it felt the most honest and real, and even with the troubles they had here and there they still were able to make things work.
I feel like I’m just bashing this film, but overall I did like it. I think I just saw tons of potential there that I wish had been met. But I think it’s worth seeing, if only for the interesting ideas presented and perhaps one of the greatest final lines of a romantic comedy I’ve ever heard (think the final scene in Jerry Maguire, but filthier). The performances are solid, and there’s some fantastic dialogue and scenes in general that take the rom-com genre up in status very, very slightly. But I’ll take it where I can get it.