Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friends with Kids

There's a good movie to be made about the issues raised in Jennifer Westfeldt's Friends with Kids, a breezy comedy of Manhattan manners that turns serious in its last third with mixed results. Writer/director Westfeldt plays Julie, successful in work but unhappy in love, whose most meaningful relationship is a platonic one with college buddy Jason (Adam Scott). Jason's bed is never empty for long, but there's plenty of time to share cabs with Julie and recoil in mutual horror at the lives of their married with children friends Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig) and Alex and Leslie (Chris O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph). It comes as something of a surprise then when Julie and Jason talk themselves into having a child together without becoming a couple; there's no drunken, random sexual encounter but rather two people beginning to acknowledge their hidden feelings and half-buried needs. Trouble starts when new loves come on the scene, a dancer (a tart Megan Fox, playing well with this ensemble) who catches Jason's eye and a divorced Dad (Edward Burns) whom Julie meets at her son's preschool. Your tolerance for Julie and Jason will depend on how long you can stand watching them delude themselves. For a while they, and we, are content to float along on the notion that there's something brave and new about their arrangement; why shouldn't they experience the joys of parenting with each other while looking for romantic pleasure with others? Jon Hamm's Ben takes the movie down a darker path in a great drunken monologue, in which he calls out the fact that Julie and Jason will have to one day explain to their son that he was conceived not out of love but as a lifestyle choice. I wanted to spend more time with the unhappy Ben and Missy (Wiig is underused), whose marriage is coming apart as Julie and Jason's new-rules family appears to be beating the odds. Because of course, Ben is right. The life that Julie and Jason have concocted hides certain feelings which, when revealed, force the movie in a more conservative direction. The bawdy last scene belies what's really going on between these two characters; what Westfeldt wrote isn't really what these two people want to say to each other.

If you only know Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation then you're in for a pleasant surprise. Scott's Jason is a jerk hiding not very deep pain who changes course, and Scott pulls off a couple of big speeches with an excellent burst of newly discovered emotion. Westfeldt is lively but her physical inexpressiveness is a problem for me, especially when put up against the presences of Wiig and Rudolph. Finally Friends with Kids isn't as bold as it wants to be, but a strong cast and good writing put it through. Movies about different kind of love are badly needed, and this one is an honest attempt to address modern adult life.

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