Friends With Kids (***)

A rather pleasant little film that never quite lets you shake off the feeling that you’ve seen this movie before, ‘Friends With Kids’ has a lot to offer, but little of it is particularly extraordinary. This is a relationship comedy with surprisingly effective dramatic underpinnings, but all throughout I kept waiting for the film to break out from being merely good and enter into the territory of being great. That moment never came though, and I honestly was a bit on the disappointed side with Jennifer Westfeld’s directorial debut (she previously wrote both ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ and ‘Ira & Abby’). Now, perhaps that’s just due to how much I love the film ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’, but Westfeld’s writing isn’t as sharp as it was there. She wrote herself in the lead and thrust a lot of talented actresses into far less rewarding supporting roles. If she had switched with co-star Kristen Wiig, for example, I think the sparks would have flown more. Alas, that was not to be, and all in all I can’t complain much. She still has good chemistry with co-lead Adam Scott, and the entire ensemble does their best when together. This story of friends, yes…dealing with having kids and growing up is a perfectly enjoyable movie. It just could have been so much more, especially when you consider what half of this cast achieved in ‘Bridesmaids’ just last year.

A Woody Allen-esque portrait of a half dozen friends, we’re first introduced to Jason (Scott) and Julie (Westfeld), the single people of the group. Jason is a serial dater with no interest in anything long term, and Julie is worried that she’s getting too old to find a man. Their friends are paired off into two couples. There’s the perpetually horny Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Wiig), as well as the dryly funny Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph). When Alex and Leslie announce that they’re expecting a child, the friends pledge to stay just as happy and fun as they are then. Cue a cut to 4 years later, and it couldn’t be farther from that. Jason and Julie are in similar spots, but Ben and Missy have a kid and hate each other, while a few kids have strained Alex and Leslie’s love. Almost to prove to their friends that kids don’t ruin your life, Jason and Julie opt to make a baby together and raise it as friends. What starts off surprisingly well takes a U-turn when Jason meets a young woman (Megan Fox) and Julie meets a divorced dad (Ed Burns). All this while they fight the realization that they could have feelings for each other as well. Tensions mount and eventually all hell breaks loose. No, the plot isn’t anything new, but it’s done in a satisfactory way.

I enjoyed the acting of the ensemble in different increments, though they work best as the group as opposed to on their own. Seeing Adam Scott have a lead role is always fun, and while he doesn’t approach his startlingly good work in ‘The Vicious Kind’, he’s enjoyable here. As for Jennifer Westfeld, she soft sells her character a little too much, but she’s hardly bad. Everyone else is kind of wasted, though they shine in small moments. Kristen Wiig especially is given almost nothing to do, but she hits a home run in her big dramatic scene. Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph mostly are there to give information to other characters, Jon Hamm is completely wasted until the end, and Ed Burns is his usual mellow self. Megan Fox actually does a nice job as Jason’s lady friend, but it’s not really a demanding role. They all kick it up a notch during their group scenes, but on their own it’s only a low wattage. The high watts come in those few instances when they get together and just play. I suppose I just wish there were more of those scenes.

Westfeld’s direction is decent but pretty unassuming, so it’s hard to get a read on her skill set there. Her writing is consistent, but not as good as she’s capable of. The issue here is she gives her characters interesting dialogue, but puts them in less than interesting situations. If her zingers were a little better, it wouldn’t be as noticeable…that’s not the case though. Nothing is particularly bad here, but nothing really excels either, so my praise is somewhat limited.

‘Friends With Kids’ is a little movie that you’ll likely have a good time with, but it doesn’t really distinguish itself. A year from now, you’ll likely confuse it with something else. I liked it enough to recommend it, but I know this just isn’t anything particularly memorable. It’s good for what it is, but it never moves forward from that. If you’re looking for some light entertainment, this will certainly do. Just don’t expect anything really special.

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