A Prickly, poignant look at hipster parenthood
Film comedies these days tend to fall into three buckets: sappy romantic comedies (the kind typically starring Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigel, et al), the lowbrow farce wherein Adam Sandler has purloined a fortune, and the more raunchy fare in that Judd Apatow is nearly always, in some way, involved.
Eschewing easy definition, along comes “Friends with Kids,” a smart, engaging, adult comedy that is as comfortable being acerbically honest as it is being, ultimately, rather old-fashioned. It navigates some treacherous relationship territory with aplomb and adroitly uses a brilliant ensemble to rewarding result.
Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt who also wrote and directed – more on her later) and Jason (Adam Scott from TV’s “Parks and Recreation”) are best friend twenty-somethings. Watching their good friends (Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm—a veritable “Bridesmaids” reunion) get married and struggle mightily with young children prompts a not-too-idiotic hypothetical: if a couple were to have a baby together, couldn’t a lot of marital dissatisfaction be avoided if the couple wasn’t married in the first place? Going one step further, Julie and Jason have no interest in living together, but agree to put all of their energy into their child while remaining platonic “besties.”
Or as Jason puts it, “I’ll be 100 % committed 50 % of the time!”
This is the simple conceit that drives “Friends with Kids.” But what propels the film into nearly groundbreaking territory is the way Westfeldt seamlessly carves a biting humor from her self-absorbed characters while maintaining enough empathy that we don’t regret having genuine feelings when things turn serious. Nothing here feels contrived in execution, but it takes a sterling cast to strike the right balance or we would quickly lose interest, or worse, become ambivalent.
One of the film’s best scenes is a reunion at a ski lodge. Julie and Jason, now with a small boy in tow (conceived in a hilariously awkward earlier sequence), seem to have it all figured out. After a few burgundies, the conversation turns uncomfortably but authentically terse, even painful with the right dose of unforced humor.
If this sounds like the R-rated (there are a lot of “F” words even for a group of hip Manhattanites) intersection where fans of “Seinfeld” and “Friends” could be happy, so be it. But Westfeldt, whose last major project was 2001’s “Kissing Jessica Stein,” is to be congratulated for fashioning a witty, edgy, but finely-observed portrait of the occasional hell and worthwhile heaven of new parenthood.
Rated “R” for sexual content and language.