I didn’t exactly hate the new romantic comedy/would-be chronicle of the highs and lows of parenting “Friends With Kids.” In fact, if you had asked me right after I left the theater what I thought of the movie, I would probably just have gushed, “I want Maya Rudolph to be my best friend.” Come to think of it, I stand by that statement.
The movie, which was written, directed, and starred in by the absurdly clear-skinned and adorable Jennifer Westfeldt, follows the lives of three pairs — two married, one “best friends” (you can imagine how that one turns out) navigating the churning waters of marriage, parenthood and how the latter totally screws up the former. The aforementioned pair of “best friends,” played by Westfeldt and Adam Scott, decide they don’t want to have the kid-having aspect of their lives wreak havoc on the sex-with-Megan-Fox-having aspect, and that the best way to handle the two is to have a child together, just “as friends,” split the responsibilities, and go about their romantic lives separately.
Well, once again, you can imagine how that all turns out. Fair warning: What follows will contain some mild spoilers, but then again, if you can’t guess the outcome of this film by its two-minute trailer, well, you may need to take some remedial courses on rom-com structure.
The film was marketed as an edgier, more honest portrayal of adult relationships, and how kids and the other messinesses of being a grownup affect those relationships. Even the tag line – “Love. Happiness. Kids. Pick Two.” – seems to speak to a more real representation of what love is like when it’s no longer of the Nicholas Sparks, kissing in the rain, sex in the restaurant men’s room variety. And to be fair, there are moments in the film that do honestly capture that mood, where romance must come second to projectile baby diarrhea.
For my money, though the movie focuses primarily on the developing relationship between Westfeldt and Scott’s characters, the two other couples are much more interesting. Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd play what feels like the most realistic couple in the film — crazy about each other once, they now spend most of their time bickering about their kids, but still manage to maintain a united front when the going gets truly rough. Every time they appeared onscreen, I wished they’d stick around much longer.
Kristen Wiig, giving a shockingly tamped-down performance, and Disney prince Jon Hamm make up the third couple, a toxic combination who seem to hate one another and their kid(s) (I’m not actually sure how many children anyone has in this film) and who go through a very believable, scotch and red wine-fueled divorce midway through the film. Hamm, in particular, though he hardly talks during the rest of the movie, delivers a raw, profane, and totally real takedown of Scott and Westfeldt’s irrational and irresponsible decision to have a child without, it seems, considering what they’ll tell this baby when he’s not a baby at all anymore and wants to know why his parents had him if they never loved each other. Fair point, Don Draper.
Of course, in the end, the “friend” boy gets the “friend” girl and everyone pairs off in a totally normal, not at all edgy, not at all pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a family way. Duh. But therein lies the problem.
For one thing, I found it grating and oh-so-typical that poor Jennifer Westfeldt, who is so clearly too good for Scott’s mouthy, vaguely rodent-faced, womanizing character, gets to be the one to pine away for most of the film. Way to reinforce every possible stereotype about women’s emotional weakness and inability to have sex without becoming emotionally attached, Hollywood. Shameful. Moreover, when she confesses her undying love for him, he gets to callously blow her off, while all he has to do at the end of the film is beg to (I kid you not) “fuck the shit out of her,” and all is forgiven and they live, I presume, relatively happily ever after. I wanted to see him work for it, the way she had to work so hard to become independent, forget about his sorry ass and put together an amazing life as a single mother. Unfortunately, all he had to do was rudely show up.
What I really wanted from this movie was something impossible for the genre: for the opposite sex leads not to end up together, for the plot to live up to its promises and not fall into a faux-fairytale, heteronormative, lazy interpretation of what it means for things to “work out.” Westfeldt could totally have made it as a single mother, happily, and could have found someone (maybe, if she wanted to) who would not have spent most of their relationship dismissing her because her breasts weren’t big enough. A new kind of family could have been forged, revealing the many permutations modern family-creating really does take, and flying in the face of the expectation that a real, loving household must have a mommy, a daddy, and a prop-kid to offset the mommy and daddy’s important grownup dramas. This movie could have been edgy and tried something new with love, happiness, and kids.
Instead, the boy inexplicably won over the too-good-for-him girl, and everything turned out exactly how I hoped it wouldn’t. Luckily, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig were there to help me through.