Jennifer Westfeldt wrote about a sexually experimental neurotic woman in 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein. She scripted a quickly married and quickly harried neurotic couple in 2006’s Ira & Abby. And now she’s juggling three neurotic Manhattan twosomes in Friends With Kids, her directorial debut. It’s fair to say that Westfeldt is shaping up to be the female Woody Allen. Only most Woody Allen movies would be slightly more tolerable if, instead of saying “I love you,” its characters whispered, “Fuck the shit out of me.”
It’s that kind of cutting that helps the saccharine of Friends With Kids go down — though it doesn’t knife through quite often enough to keep things from becoming an “Aww!” fest that traditional chick-flickers will lap up. The story centers on Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), best friends who are close enough to wake each other up with the little how-would-you-rather-die game they play but have never been tempted to sleep together. At the beginning of the film, they’re cabbing it out to Brooklyn (Brooklyn!) for a birthday celebration at the kind of restaurant where they and their friends look with horror at people who bring their kids.
At least, two-thirds of them still do: Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd) announce that they’re having a baby, and everyone coos on cue, including still-hot-for-each-other couple Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm, Westfeldt’s real-life paramore). Jump ahead four years, and they have a kid, too. Julie and Jason watch as everyone else’s life turns to chaos, their homes a mess, their romance fizzled, and their brats forever screaming their lungs out. You wouldn’t think that this kind of scenario would lead Julie and Jason to want a bundle of joy themselves. But they’re going to be smart about it, keeping love-love out of the equation and co-parenting as best buds only (with a convenient story for potential partners about a one-night stand).
Now, while watching Friends With Kids you become aware (or more aware) that you’re either pro-baby or, well, not exactly anti-baby, but not the kind of person who makes goo-goo noises whenever she sees a cute tyke onscreen. Because soon enough, there’s a LOT of cute-tykeness going on: Julie and Jason naturally have the most adorable and perfectly behaved baby ever, and it’s the reason Friends With Kids goes off the rails for a while. But it’s not all touchy-feely. Westfeldt does have a gift for navel-gazing gab (when she calls Jason early on and admits she has a guy sleeping next to her, she says, “He’s, like, 11, he’s a bartender. What’s wrong with me?”) and scenes of their friends and their offspring are as funny as they are horrific (“It’s like I raped her to have a kid,” Ben mutters).
Westfeldt also goes deep for a while, with an excruciating group-vacation dinner scene during which everyone gets too drunk, too hostile, and too honest. The discussion mostly revolves around Julie and Jason’s child and how confusing it’s going to be for him once he gets older. And the film’s general premise, about how relationships change once kids are involved, is spot-on. Before they have their own baby and after one nightmare of a visit with their friends, Jason says, “We don’t know those people. Those people are mean.”
Yes, they’re the product of little sleep, constant disorder, and never enough time. They’re people you do know, or maybe you belong to the club yourself. Either way, Friends With Kids offers a fair dose of reality with its cute- and cleverness, a world in which fucking is as meaningful as making love.