Friends With Kids begins with a ubiquitous audio track—the familiar marimba ringtone that is the default for iPhones. The noise set off the room full of critics where I screened the film, because they immediately feared one of their own had broken the cardinal sin of movie going. Instead, the noise was just a clever way to start off a movie that needs all the help it can get. Jennifer Westfeldt’s (Kissing Jessica Stein, Bridesmaids) latest film boasts all the credentials of a quirky indie flick—impeccable cast, left-of-center premise, youthful attitude—but falls flat on its face.
The premise of Friends With Kids is ostensibly intriguing. Westfeldt, who also wrote, directed and produced the film, stars as Julie Keller, a single thirty-something enjoying city life in Manhattan. Sounds like the set up for pretty much every romcom ever, but it’s not: As Julie’s friends begin to pair off and have kids, she and her platonic friend Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) also decide to have a baby. Their logic? Without love clouding their judgment, they’ll raise a great kid and eventually each find the love of their lives.
OK, so maybe it's still a pretty flimsy plot. If you haven’t been jaded by the American movie industry enough to see where this is going, I commend you. It’s clear from the start that even with a slightly unconventional plot, Friends With Kids needs extreme wit and acting to survive—which is where a lot of indie flicks these days find their strength.
But that’s where Friends With Kids comes up short. In one of the film’s best moments, Julie’s married friends, Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph), are talking in their bathroom when Alex casually wipes his hands on Leslie’s bathrobe instead of looking for a towel. Moments like this that cleverly analyze the lives of married people with kids are few and far between. This problem stems from the script itself: Too often these characters, supposedly weighed down by marriage and parenting, are drinking in the morning, cursing in front of their children or getting caught up with types of social drama more at home on How I Met Your Mother.
In an interview with North by Northwestern, Westfeldt said that “with any indie film, you’re lucky if the stars align and there’s that moment where the cast you want is available for three weeks or four weeks,” but in Friends With Kids the supporting cast’s potential is never fully tapped. One of the movie’s most important scenes occurs when Ben (Jon Hamm), who’s marriage to Missy (Kirsten Wiig) is on the rocks, awkwardly denounces Jason’s experiment in child rearing while the group of friends is staying at a cabin in the woods. Hamm has obviously earned his acting stripes, but the scene drags because his words are simply unrealistic.
Friends With Kids exists in a weird universe where kids make their parents tired and stressed, but don’t actually remove them from their wild social spheres of drinking and vulgarity. The parts are well acted, the scenes are well-shot, and the premise is well-intentioned but, due to a poor script, the film is fatally flawed.
“I hope there’s at least one character everyone can identify with,” Westfeldt said. “Above all, I want the film to be relatable. The goal was to show through these various characters different perspectives and different versions of how people deal with this profound life change.”
Friends With Kids could have been a truly unique indie flick, but misses the mark when it comes to believability.
Final Grade: C