The similarities don’t end with the cast. Friends With Kids contains plenty of rude and crude humor, and in the same way that Bridesmaids poked fun at the absurdity of weddings and relationships by depicting a smorgasbord of broad supporting characters dealing with various marital strife, Friends With Kids skewers parenting. Well, not parenting itself so much as the ways adults change once they become charged with the welfare of a helpless young’un. You could almost say Friends With Kids picks up where Bridesmaids left off, with both the Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph characters childless and in happy relationships. (But not for long — on both counts.)
Written by, directed by, and starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Friends With Kids is actually more concerned with Jason and Julie, played by Adam Scott and Westfeldt, who were not in Bridesmaids, than any of the characters played by actors who were. Jason and Julie are besties who share every intimate detail of their lives with each other, and when the movie begins, neither of them is secretly in love with the other. However, once they see how their once-happy friends have become wretched, miserable people in just four years, thanks to child-rearing, Jason and Julie decide the sensible thing to do is to get parenting out of the way before they find their soul mate, with the person they trust most in the world — each other. This leads to an awkward sex scene, and then boom — out comes a baby.
Some of their friends think the idea is ludicrous. Others think less traditional modes of parenting are just as likely to succeed as more by-the-book methods. To me, it doesn’t seem too crazy. Friends With Kids glosses over the pregnancy and some of the stickier details of such arrangements, the sleepless nights and legal issues and whatnot. It keeps the focus trained on Jason and Julie’s relationship, the ways it ebbs and flows. Those “friends with kids” — Ben and Missy (Hamm and Wig), and Alex and Leslie (O’Dowd and Rudolph) are astounded to discover that Jason and Julie actually make fine parents, even when they’re sleeping with other people. Have they found a loophole in that whole “parenting leads to mutual hatred” thing?
Not exactly. Movies enjoy making a big deal out of the 21st century by dangling new-fangled relationships in front of audiences — such as last year’s Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached — and then snatching them away in the third act, only to replace them with tired romantic comedy cliches of yesteryear. “Silly modern moviegoer, that would never work!” these films chortle at us, rolling their movie-eyes for buying into their own nonsense premises. Friends With Kids follows suit. Sure, it might have been a more interesting movie if it had let Jason and Julie remain friends without benefits, with one very important string attached — a tiny human being. Exploring all the complexities of that sort of relationship — one in which they’d still get jealous and perhaps hate each other’s chosen spouses, not because they’re attracted to one other but because that’s what friends do — would have been fresh and progressive, and a bit of a feather in the cap of all the non-traditional parents out there. As it is, Friends With Kids gets three-quarters of the way there, then decides to trot backward a bit just in case Middle America doesn’t like it.
But as traditional romantic comedies go, Friends With Kids reasonably painless, with sharp dialogue, engaging performances, and a premise that keeps things interesting — at least until it stretches out the inevitable conclusion for far too long in the last reel. Not surprisingly, Friends With Kids isn’t exactly the ensemble laugh riot the marketing would like audiences to believe it is — the poster features John Hamm and Kristen Wiig front and center, with the film’s little-known writer, director, and star pushed off into a corner. In reality, funny ladies Wiig and Rudolph are actually playing it pretty straight. Wiig, in particular, is miserably unhappy, and I can’t recall a single true zinger her character delivers. (Edward Burns and Megan Fox also turn up as the impossibly perfect mates Jason and Julie hook up with before deciding to follow the rom-com formula after all.)
Fortunately, the chemistry between Jason and Julie does work, at least on some level. The two have a fun rapport. They make great friends. When they each decide they’re meant to be with the other, as friends in romantic comedies will, it’s almost a curiosity. “Really?” you want to say. “But you guys are already having so much fun together!” It seems a shame to ruin that by throwing them into a conventional relationship at movie’s end, but there you have it. Friends With Kids is an engaging, small-scale comedy that will most likely find a cushy home on Netflix. You know, so married couples who hate each other have something to put on between putting the kids to bed and being woken up by an infant’s incessant wailing.