Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Issues With Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids! Oh my god! This movie has woken up a maelstrom of feelings I wasn't even aware human beings could feel! It was all rage-related Lamaze-breathing and flashbacks to Kissing Jessica Stein! Maya Rudolph was there! That was nice! And ever more ludicrously gorgeous and affordable Manhattan/Brooklyn apartments!

Okay, seriously: Friends With Kids. Can we please talk about this? It premiered at TIFF last week, but it hasn't been picked up yet, so let's just talk about vanity projects, thesis statements and hating on Brooklyn.

For the 95% of the population who is not aware of this movie, let me set up the conceit: a New York City social circle in their 30s starts hitting that life-cycle milestone, the child, with differing degrees of success. Maya Rudolph and Chris "The Irish cop from Bridesmaids" O'Dowd couple up and have some kids: she turns into a screaming, nagging shrew who publicly criticizes the me-time her hoodie-wearing husband takes on the john. Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig play a couple who are slowly driven apart by his half-hearted participation in parenting, and their joint affinity for red wine. And finally, Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott play long-time friends who, after watching their friends' post-childbirth relationship with horror, decide to have a kid together, but without all that couple-y stuff. Their unusual set-up allows them to keep the focus on staying in the dating game and eventually landing their hotter life partners, and side-steps the degeneration of romance that their friends have suffered.

The concept is a little smug. But hey - we can live with smug! But as the film gets going, it becomes clear that Westfeldt, who does not have children, is convinced that two friends could baby-share. There's a rant by Jon Hamm that asks the questions the audience must have wondered: what do you a tell a kid who knows his parents were never in love? How can you have the hubris to think your parenting styles and needs will overlap without talking it out in advance? How do you justify gambling with someone's life, and their understanding of what it means to love and commit, when you demonstrate that having a child together takes a backseat to finding a super-hot sexual playmate?

The super-hot sexual playmate, played by Megan Fox, obviously doesn't want kids. Kids, she says, tie you down, make you slow and fat, and limit your ability to implausibly star in a Broadway musical. Fox's role in this movie is to play the hedonistic slut: she can put her legs behind her head! She's hot. But she she won't touch him when he's sprayed nostrils-to-nipples with baby diarrhea, all but strangles a toddler in a bistro, and Scott is duty-bound to break up with her. She's not The One after all. (But! Legs! Behind her head!) By assigning Fox the childless role, the choice to remain childless is dismissed by the film as an indulgence of selfish and young people, a decision that would be impossible to sustain into your thirties.

Despite their separate, rocky dating scenes, Westfeldt and Scott are totally united and on par in their parenting abilities. There's no resentment when she calls him at 3 AM to rock their colicky offspring. He's able to make the little bastard instantly stop crying after she's been dealing with the screaming for an hour, a move that would have me questioning my sanity. They agree to split everything, time included, down the middle, so they can keep dating and having their own, non-parenting lives. Obviously, this is insane, but Westfeldt is firm in her conviction that friends really would be better than couples at raising children. Her characters demonstrate an unworldly geniality to childrearing. Even the most mellow parents occasionally feel like they're going to freak out: these parents never do. The gender parity is taken for granted, despite the fact that in the other two couples - like most couples - the woman is charge of the screaming, the cleaning, the silent crying and the feedings.

The movie relies heavily on Westfeldt's talents: she wrote, produced, directed and starred in thie film, a power play that means her fingerprints are on every frame of the film. I'm not going to lie - I disliked her. Westfeldt is blonde, about 95 pounds, and talks in a breathy Minnie Mouse voice. The movie runs a little blue - the seduction line is "I'm going to fuck the shit out of you," (also said by: date rapists everywhere!), and it's jarring to hear her utter it in an oopsy-cutesy voice. Scott is slightly miscast - he looks like a grim Eagle Scout when he's mad, and Megan Fox is way out of his league. But Westfeldt is, by far, the biggest dud... but, you know, this was clearly designed to be a breakout role for her. It's her show.

The supporting cast is great: Hamm convincingly plays a louche dad and Wiig, his long-suffering wife. Despite their friction, the relationship between O'Dowd's and Rudolph's characters is solid and enviable, and O'Dowd is affable and charming - I would date that guy, for sure. When Jon Hamm has his drunken what-are-you-thinking rant, the characters all freeze in horror, but Rudolph and O'Dowd make sure they clutch hands first. I loved that. (Meanly, I would guess Westfeldt had nothing to do with that moment, either.) I feel like this movie was trying to teach me something about being a woman, or a mother, or a New Yorker, or something. Like, it's fine to be a mom, as long as you're hot? Or, like, your husband will grow to hate you, so you might as well fray his last nerve and be done with it? Kids are sweet? Romance is needed in childrearing? Love is extraneous? Baby poop will get on you? Brooklyn is a wasteland? WHAT IS IT?! Jon Hamm always plays a jerk? TELL ME! Because, while Maya Rudolph is my movie-star girlfriend right now, and New York is awesome, this movie is NOT GOOD in a way that I have very strong feelings about. Don't see it. Or do see it, once it's in wide release, and then we can talk about it in loud voices on the bus.


  1. I really liked this movie. In fact, I like all three of Westfeldt's major films (KJS, I&A, FWK). I hated the final scene - any other sexually motivated phrase would have worked better for me. After the explosive diarrhea episode, all I could think about was that this couple was about to have some messy anal sex. It was not how I wanted this sweet film to finish.

  2. your review I agree with a lot of it. Even the ending where you aren't concise but ask a bunch of questions.
    The reason: Friend's with Kids made me feel ambivalent too. I had empathy and was rooting for Westfeldt's character at the end. Her long standing close friend has revealed he loves her deeply, but maybe just maybe it reveals his true shallowness in that he is defending an attack in public with his friends, and his profession of love is really just a winning of an argument, a saving of face? A pushing back against a truth spouting drunk unhappy friend.

    His beautiful speech is contrasted by the reality of his actions. He loves her, but is with the girl with the pretty face, and big boobs. His giving in at the end seems desperate, and rather crude.

    I with empathy rooted for Westfeldt's character to have a happy ending. Why couldn't she have an happy ending with the great great guy she met rather then with the one who's idea of declaring true love is "I want to fuck the shit out of you." I hated the ending, and thought I guess it's like reality: a nice woman makes a bad choice. She "I don't want to be with someone who's not into me." he in full seduction, manipulation mode, "I want to fuck the shit out of you." Charming. She wants to believe. I feel her heart over rules her brain. Having sex in the bathroom wins out over true love. He's acting out his passion, but it's just acting to win, a poor imitation of love that will last. I felt bad she ended up with this guy. Did he grow? I somehow doubt it.

  3. darn should have edited this. oh well.