Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), childhood friends, are both successful business-types, but neither have emulated that success in their love lives. With their friends – couples Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph) – start to have families, they naturally feel pangs of jealousy, leading to a decision that not only has repercussions on them, but also on the seemingly stable lives of those close to them.
Grown up romantic comedies are hard to come by, and when they do come along, they don’t always offer the unique approach they claim. Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids, in which she writes, directs and plays the lead role, is much and such the same, though it does contain far more intrigue than the ridiculous-sounding synopsis suggests.
When we’re first introduced to this collection of colourful, well-to-do characters, they’re all successful, fun-loving and at the height of their lives. Though all clearly have problems, they think and interact in a way that feels natural to everyday human situations and characteristics. Then, as children, relationship troubles and the fear of the unpredictability of their futures enter the fray, Westfeldt’s depiction of reality wavers, eventually slipping into the conventional territory it had done so well to avoid.
The blending of comedy and drama is difficult enough, without the added pressure of delivering a slice of cinema that feels more mature in comparison to the bland, humdrum and sexualised comedies that’ve been forced upon us. And, while Westfeldt does her best to develop relatable and authentic characters, the situations they find themselves in are nothing more than mindless scenarios to either break them up, or disturb the equilibrium, only for it to be fixed come the final conclusion.
It would be wrong, though, to call Friends With Kids a failure, as there’s a lot here to engage with, particularly Jason and Julie’s situation: two people forced to come to terms with the possibility that they may never find the love of their life or have the family they’ve always dreamt of, and what they’ll do to ensure their lives are not complete failures. However, no matter how Scott and Westfeldt try to undercut the forceful way the lessons are portrayed as blatant comments on society, the overall execution is too soppy and conventional for the narrative’s central idea to withstand.
It’s evident from Westfeldt’s tender honesty, and willingness to lay herself on the table as writer, director and star, that she never meant for Friends With Kids to hit with the level of sarcasm and detriment that it does, but unfortunately, whether it be her inexperience in the field, the fact the film is laden with comedy actors that often feel out of place or its tendency to succumb to tasteless rom-com etiquette, it doesn’t tie together as well as it thinks it does.