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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Friends With Kids

Westfeldt's predictable but amusing romantic comedy

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By now, the romantic comedy staffed with young professionals and set in Manhattan has become a genre unto itself, both in mainstream and indie productions. Friends With Kids is neither the best nor the worst of the lot; its ending is entirely predictable, yet it catches a certain vibe, captures a slice of contemporary life in a bottle and manages to be consistently amusing while seldom laugh-out-loud funny.

Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) has earned a reputation for approaching romantic comedies with greater intelligence than many of her competitors. In Friends With Kids, the writer-director does triple duty as one of her film's protagonists, Julie, a cute if brittle 30-something and something of a failure in love. Her best friend, Jason ("Parks and Recreation" star Adam Scott, channeling a young Tom Cruise), has long been her late-night conversation partner, fallback date and shoulder for crying on, but he's a restless womanizer, reluctant to commit—and Julie just is not his type.

The plot kick comes early, at an upscale Manhattan restaurant where Julie and Jason dine with two married couples (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm). The intrusion of shrill-voiced children at the next table ("Who'd bring toddlers to a $100-a-plate restaurant?") brings the admission from the married friends that children are on the way. Cut to four years later: Both married couples are living in toy-strewn apartments surrounded by the demanding racket of their kids, and, despite the signs of parental strain, Julie and Jason begin to wonder whether they should have a child—not get married or even involved, mind you! Having the child without commitment frees them to explore other people, fulfill Julie's biological desires (what's with Jason?) and yet remain as they always were: friends. The little boy is held in joint custody and travels up and down the elevator of their high-rise condo for turns at parenting.

If the arrangement sounds rife with future conflict to you, Julie and Jason's married friends agree, whispering "Are they nuts?" behind their backs. The screwball setup isn't funny enough for screwball comedy, but it manages to evade most of the goo-goo sentimentality surrounding babies in Hollywood movies. Kept afloat by a believable cast, Friends With Kids teases out questions abut love and sex without love, the meaning of commitment and our responsibility to others, the unrealistic expectations for happiness that permeate our society and the ever-vexing challenge of friendship between men and women.
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