Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (writer-director Jennifer Westfeldt) are friends. Best friends. But just friends. And definitely not friends with benefits, as they repeatedly emphasize how not attracted to each other they are. (Both beautiful people, they doth protest too much, methinks. She says he’s too short for her—okay, fine. But he likes bigger boobs? Whatever.)
Meanwhile, their other friends—Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) and Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm)—are settling down (all the way out in Brooklyn!) and starting families. The results aren’t pretty. Leslie has turned into a harpy, which is understandable since Alex appears completely oblivious to the chaos surrounding him. And no longer the free-spirited couple who would grab a quickie at a restaurant while their friends sip water back at the table, Ben has become a first-rate dick, Missy a bundle of nerves on the edge of a meltdown. The cast is universally stellar, infusing life experience into the refreshingly frank and often ribald humor.
Jason and Julie wonder whether it’s possible to maintain the romance in a relationship once children enter into it. Maybe, they decide, if the romance isn’t with the person you’re raising a child with. They decide to beat the system by having a child together while remaining free to pursue unfettered, uncomplicated romance with others. You know, friends with kids.
Their plan is difficult to explain to their friends, not just because it’s unorthodox but because it’s an implicit criticism of their conventional lifestyles. Jason and Julie fumble this, badly, and their friends conclude he feels sorry for her despite their determination to present it in the most equitable light. But the truth is, except for childcare, there’s little equitable about their arrangement. Jason dates often and widely—there’s a running joke about how he brings a different date every time the group gets together, although we don’t see this; Julie, even when she’s gotten back into dating shape after childbirth, hardly dates at all.
Eventually, though, despite their friends’ skepticism, the scheme appears to be working swimmingly: A dinner party hosted by the new parents is a scene of domestic bliss, and Jason meets the girl of his dreams, a Broadway dancer named Mary Jane (Megan Fox) who values her freedom. (Fox certainly fits the part as Jason’s ideal, but, in a rare casting misstep, the sparks just don’t fly between them on-screen.) Julie, too, meets a guy, Kurt (Edward Burns), who’s decent and kind and manly. But a group ski trip in Vermont reveals not only both the genius of and the flaws in Jason and Julie’s relationship but the fissures that are threatening to break apart their friends’ families.
One of the great strengths of Westfeldt’s script lies in this juxtaposition of the couples and its inherent comment on the fluidity of the American family—father, mother, two kids and a white picket fence is no longer the prevailing norm, and that standard doesn’t work for everyone, anyway. Friends with Kids is not a lecture, though—rather, a romantic comedy for adults for whom issues like family planning are a reality.
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns
Release Date: Mar. 9, 2012