Movie Review: Friends With Kids
Pros:A stellar cast and some great set pieces.
Cons:It's just not as funny as it thinks it is.
With a line-up of some of the hottest talent in Hollywood at the moment, this should have been a great movie. And it’s not.
Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) have been friends since college days; they’ve never dated, but have fallen into the roles of an established couple, forming a twosome at dinner parties and phoning each other late at night, often while their current partner snores beside them. They watch their married friends have children and slowly become consumed with the grind of family life, while their romantic relationships crumble around them. Julie and Jason both want kids themselves, but don’t want the marital death sentence that seems to come along with them. What are they to do? Well, naturally, they decide to have a baby, share the parenting, and remain free to pursue romantic relationships with third parties without the complications and resentments of co-parenting. They’ll just be Friends, With a Kid.
Ok, so it’s a stupid idea, but on such crazy schemes are great rom-coms built, and the plot isn’t the problem with Friends With Kids. The problem is that it’s much less funny than it’s aiming to be. The script (by Jennifer Westfeldt, who also directs) feels lazy at times, and is filled with off-colour jokes designed to show how comfortable Jason and Julie are with each other. Now, as huge fans of anything coming from the Judd Apatow stable, we appreciate a good dirty joke as much as the next guy – but it has to be funny. Crudity without humour is just painful to listen to, and after you’ve heard Jason’s sixth ‘big vagina’ joke in the space of twenty minutes, you’ll want to beat him over the head with your shoe. If you haven’t already done just that for the way he constantly addresses Julie as ‘Doll’.
Indeed, Adam Scott is, unfortunately, one of the major let-downs of this film; we say ‘unfortunately’ because, as any fan of the hugely-underrated Parks and Recreation knows, Scott is a fantastic actor and one of the most appealing faces on TV. But this role as the eternal player who can’t see the swell gal standing right in front of him just doesn’t sit well, and he’s let down by a script that paints him as such a slimy piece of work that it’s hard to believe Julie would ever want to procreate with him. There’s a horribly awkward scene where he meets Megan Fox’s free-spirited dancer in a park and tries to pick her up – but it’s unclear whether the horrible awkwardness was what the author intended, or just an unfortunate by-product of the weak writing.
Westfeldt relies on tired tropes to depict Jason and Julie’s platonic buddiness, and show us how much in tune they are; they regularly phone each other to play the “How Would You Rather Die?” game, yet when Julie tries this hilarious time-killer with new boyfriend Kurt (Edward Burns), he Just. Doesn’t. Get. It. Could it be he’s not the man for her? Unfortunately, we’ve seen all this before, in everything from Dawson’s Creek to Wedding Crashers, and it just feels old.
It’s not all bad. Jon Hamm does a delicious turn as the nasty bastard of the group (though one wonders if he risks becoming typecast), Kristen Wiig proves she has more strings to her bow than just comedy, and Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are dependably appealing as the harried parents Jason and Julie don’t want to turn into. Megan Fox looks like she’s wandered into the chaperones’ room at a teenage party (but that’s kind of the point), while Edward Burns is convincing as the decent guy who may be the answer to Julie’s prayers. And there are a couple of great ensemble scenes, mainly set around dinner parties, with Hamm stealing the show at one particularly excruciating meal while the group are on a ski-trip together.
This isn’t a terrible movie, not at all. But it could have been a great one – if only someone had given this brilliantly-talented troupe of comedic actors better material to work with.