Adaam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt in a scene from "Friends With Kids." / Special to GoPensacola.com
'Friends With Kids'
Two and a half stars (out of four)
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Two and a half stars (out of four)
Every now and then, the romantic comedy falls into the hands of someone who seems genuinely interested in rising above the genre's cliches and who has the talent to push such a film past its inherent limits.
Jennifer Westfeldt almost gets there.
Westfeldt wrote, directed and stars in "Friends With Kids," about a couple of friends in New York who want the fulfillment of kids without the romantic sacrifices they see crippling their friends' relationships. It's an interesting premise, if a bit far-fetched for anyone who has spent long nights washing sheets and pillowcases that kids have thrown up on, and the talent involved is first-rate, including Westfeldt's real-life love interest, Jon Hamm.
But the cliches of the romantic comedy are evidently too strong to ever truly be overcome. It gives absolutely nothing away to say that when we learn Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) -- best friends from college now living in the same apartment complex -- are in no way attracted to each other romantically but want to have a kid together, we can guess where things are headed. The trick is making that journey compelling, and Westfeldt does, to a point.
As the film begins, Jason and Julie join their friends, couples Ben and Missy (Hamm and Kristen Wiig) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd), for dinner. Ben and Missy are so into each other that they have trysts in the restroom (and everywhere else). Leslie and Alex have a big announcement: They're having a baby.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Leslie and Alex have (gasp) moved to Brooklyn and have a second child; they're also constantly exhausted and sniping at each other. Ben and Missy also are parents now, a situation that has led them to drink too much and to be at each other's throats. Their relationship is clearly more troubled than Leslie and Alex's, and it serves as the more cautionary tale.
Meanwhile, Julie's maternal instincts are awakening by the minute. So Jason and Julie hit upon a plan: He will get her pregnant, she will have the baby, and they will raise it together but apart -- they'll still live in their respective apartments but will help each other out with all the duties of parenting. In addition, they will get to date other people.
Julie finds Kurt (Edward Burns), a perfect, sensitive soul, divorced with children whom he doesn't want her to meet until he's sure their relationship is the real thing. Jason starts going out with Mary Jane (Megan Fox), an impossibly hot dancer with no interest in kids.
It all works perfectly.
Until it doesn't.
Jason and Julie's friends are dubious and more than a little jealous. With the exception of the occasional bout of explosive diarrhea, Jason and Julie's son is a model child, and their lives and romantic interests blend almost seamlessly. Almost. Every now and then, Julie feels a pang when Jason comes over, but ... no, no, it's nothing, just a passing thing. Maybe.
A New Year's ski trip with the whole gang, kids and all, proves disastrous because of Ben, a bottle of Scotch and bottled-up feelings. As Ben, Hamm shows some of the danger so present in his character on TV's "Mad Men," Don Draper. It's clearly Westfeldt's attempt, as director, to provide heft to the story, and although Hamm can deliver this kind of thing in his sleep, it's an uncomfortable fit.
At least Westfeldt is trying. She tries hard to make this a grown-up version of the romantic-comedy formula, complete with dirty jokes and sex talk. Hamm and Wiig aren't around that much; you especially miss Wiig because you know how she can enliven such proceedings. Rudolph is dependable, as is Scott. O'Dowd is the best of the lot, a bemused observer for much of the movie, his wry smile all the comment that's needed when a character goes off the rails.
It's a worthwhile movie, a good effort, although it gives you pause: If these talented people can't reinvent the genre, who can?
If writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt's take on relationships and child-rearing doesn't quite manage to overcome the standard romantic comedy cliches, it isn't for lack of trying. But the
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