Friends with Kids (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
Friends with Kids is a relationship comedy that falls apart at the end.
Manhattan Is the New Manhattan
Young, upwardly mobile friends are living the dream in Manhattan. They’re appalled when a family with kids enters their swanky hangout, disrupting their evening of fine dining, booze, banter, and sex talk with screaming children.
Then one of the three couples, Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph (Idiocracy) and Chris O’Dowd (Pirate Radio)), drops the bomb: They’re having a baby. They promise they’re going to buck the trend, though. They’re going to be “cool” parents and nothing’s going to change.
Four years later, Leslie and Alex’s situation has naturally morphed dramatically. Their apartment is overrun with toys and raised voices. Another couple, Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men)), whose relationship was based on non-stop torrid sex, has hit a rough patch of absolute misery following the birth of their child.
Then there’s Jason (Adam Scott, Leap Year) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt, Kissing Jessica Stein). They’re still single because they haven’t found that ultimate ideal super-cool mate. They try to piece together the path of least resistance to pure, romantic bliss. The path seems to be marriage, child, misery, divorce, then true love.
So, with that in mind, Jason and Julie hatch the idea of having a child together, thereby skipping the complications of the first marriage and divorce, allowing them to have the satisfaction of bringing a new life into the world and freeing up their time to find their true – really true – love when it’s not their day to raise the kid.
The story sounds progressive and everything swims along as a rather radical notion that these two friends, who’ve known each other for 19 years, would engage in procreation activities while not being the least bit attracted to each other physically.
Some of what follows rings true, such as that sexaholic couple’s marriage hitting the skids. The reality is, more often than not, the more party-oriented a couple is and the more they try to maintain that responsibility-free lifestyle, the uglier the ending gets.
Leslie and Alex come across the best and their incessant bickering provides some of the movie’s best moments. O’Dowd in particular is very funny in his portrayal of a guy who has simply come to terms with the rather dull life he’s living; he was 22 when he met his wife-to-be, who was 28. Now, 10 years later, the age difference that was so hot and sexy to the 22-year-old doesn’t hold the same intrigue.
There’s some good stuff to be had there, but Friends with Kids gets bogged down with Jason and Julie’s post-baby romantic pursuits. He starts dating Mary Jane (Megan Fox, Transformers), a Broadway dancer starring in Chicago. He’s fixated on her skinny body, flexibility, and big rack. She lives the la vida gypsy. She’s Megan Fox. She’s hot.
Then Julie meets Kurt (Edward Burns, Sidewalks of New York). He’s a recently-divorced father and just so happens to be the world’s most awesome, sensitive man. He’s the voice of reason. He’s Ed Burns. He’s annoying.
Friends with Kids is a fits-and-starts kind of movie. It’s funny in places, but’s it’s also unnecessarily coarse in others. It professes to be hip and progressive at the start, but winds up taking a surprisingly conservative, old-school stance when all is said and done.
What’s interesting is that both Jason and Julie wind up meeting their truly over-the-top ideal matches after having their baby. What’s not so interesting is the emotional tug-of-war they go through as they watch each other find happiness with somebody else.
It all leads to an unconvincing “you complete me” ending that is spoiled by a blue streak that attempts to create a newly overheated sexual attraction mixed in with the reality of their 19 years of pre-existing friendship.
From a certain point of view, the ending makes sense. It’s the dialogue that clashes with the sentiments and, given the sometimes smart verbal play that’s peppered throughout the movie, the crassness becomes off-putting and borderline psychotic.
Given the movie’s low-budget, indie film roots, the supplemental features are relatively robust and thoughtful.
The centerpiece is a feature commentary with Jennifer Westfeldt (writer/director), Jon Hamm (co-star), and William Rexer (director of photography). The track offers a lot of interesting insight into low-budget filmmaking (for example, the opening scene, which takes place in two different bedrooms, was shot in the same room with opposing beds and the subway car scenes were filmed at New York City’s Transit Museum). They worked at a hectic pace and the discussion captures some of the challenges of filming outside during a frigid winter, dealing with onerous union rules, scheduling, and, yes, children. A favorite revelation is the location called “Verbronx,” a cabin located in the Bronx (complete with a view of the Triborough Bridge) that doubled as a Vermont cabin. It’s worth a listen for those interested in learning about the harsh realities of independent filmmaking.
Making Friends with Kids (8 minutes) reveals the story’s conception, with the principals growing out of sync with their peer group as children entered the picture. Turns out there's a real 15-year-friendship between Jon, Jennifer, and Adam; they could all relate to Jennifer's material. The segment includes some good behind-the-scenes footage and documentst the camaraderie of the cast.
MJ Rocks at Video Games (4 minutes) is essentially an extended outtake of Megan schooling Adam in how to play Gears of War. The optional commentary track is amusing as it’s revealed Jon broke union rules by setting up the game system personally. His actions, according to this piece, led to the filing of a union grievance.
Ad-libs and Bloopers (12 minutes) are mostly of the “had to be there” variety; there’s nothing particularly spectacular. The funniest bits are from an ad-libbed spat between Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd.
Scene 42: Anatomy of a Gag (5 minutes) is a closer look at the scene in which Jason and Jennifer reveal their plan to Leslie and Alex. The screenplay scrolls below the final cut of the scene, followed by a collection of ad-lib outtakes from the scene, including Jennifer doing a riff on Annie Hall and an extremely unfunny riff on rape that would've been best left on the cutting room floor altogether. Jennifer’s quite amused during the optional commentary track for this section, but it also feels like a lot of “had to be there” footage.
The collection of eight Deleted Scenes (8 minutes) includes a pretty good cut of a scene of Jason at work, with a guy having to postpone a meeting with IBM because of his kid ("kid trumps friends," he says). The next brief scene (only seconds long) is a follow-up to that, with the response from Jason that "baby trumps kid." There's also a funny bit in the optional commentary track about the filmmakers wanting a wide shot, but they didn’t have enough people to shovel away all the snow so they settled for a couple pumpkins by a restaruant's door to denote an October setting.
Picture and Sound
The picture (1.78:1) is crystal clear, sometimes almost too crystal clear given the digital equipment used during the shoot. Sometimes a little tactile film grain can help humanize the movie-going experience.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is well done and sounds best when the peppy pop soundtrack kicks in with songs by Wilco and The 88, among others. It’s not a demo track, which shouldn’t be expected anyway, but there are scenes in which screaming children add a nice aural effect.
Optional subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
How to Use This Disc
Enjoy the movie’s transition from radical sentiments to more conservative values. And check out Making Friends with Kids if interested in some background material. Film students should check out the well-done commentary track.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.