Jennifer Westfeldt has slowly built herself a respectable filmography as a writer of smart, entertaining romantic-comedies, beginning with Kissing Jessica Stein and continuing through Ira & Abby, both of which she also starred in.
She's worked outside the studio system for the most part, because Westfeldt tends to go for the heart with her humor, as well as brain. She understands the romance part of the rom-com genre, without losing sight of the humor. But she does it in a way that's intelligent, without pandering for laughs.
Her newest film, Friends with Kids, which she also directed, could easily have been something broad and obvious, such as Couples Retreat or Four Christmases (just to single out Vince Vaughn's part of the oeuvre). Westfeldt tends to go for the jugular, rather than the easy laugh, yet she still manages to be witty and engaging.
Besides writing and directing FWK, Westfeldt stars as Julie, currently uninvolved romantically but always ready hang out with best friend Jason (Adam Scott), who is very purposefully single.
They spend an evening with two other couples -- Chris O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig -- who both announce that they are about to have children. Cut to both couples struggling with babies, which have had different impacts on each of the couples, with both showing the effects of sleep deprivation and other forms of stress engendered by having an infant in the house.
Julie and Jason are appalled at the changes in their friends and even hypothesize about whether they -- as friends -- could parent a child without being emotionally involved with each other and thus avoid the kind of marital strife they've seen their friends fall prey to. They'll remain platonic friends; but they'll share parenting chores and live separately.
They take the leap -- and their married friends predict disaster. But things go surprisingly smoothly. At first.
The crux of Westfeldt's story is that the urge to nest and settle strikes both Julie and Jason -- just not at the same time. And Westfeldt adds in new people for each of them to get involved with. The feelings that engenders are unexpected -- by them, if not the audience. Eventually, they both discover that this kind of relationship does, in fact, bear a close resemblance to a marriage.
Westfeldt has a strong ensemble, of which she may be the weakest link, in terms of acting. Scott always finds a twinkle or a tart spin for most of his lines, even the less-funny ones. Westfeldt lacks that gift; her performance feels flat next to his -- and it's next to his a lot.
But she's got a jaunty sense of story, hop-scotching through the years of these relationships, allowing her cast -- particularly Wiig and Hamm -- to show their talent and mix it up in funny (and sometimes squirmy) combinations.
Friends with Kids is never as funny as I wanted it to be -- but I'm starting to think that few films can be. It's a smart romantic comedy that should amuse both halves of the couples who see it on date night.
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