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Friends With Kids
July 16, 2012

I missed this independent comedy in the theater, because only the blockbusters come to my suburb, so I was glad to see Friends With Kids on home video. It’s an insightful, amusing film about how children change relationships in all kinds of ways. Although you know the ending once I tell you it’s a romantic comedy about best male/female friends learning to grow up together, how it gets there is enjoyable. Watching at home is a more relaxed experience that better suits the domestic material.

Jennifer Westfeldt (who wrote and directed the film) stars as Julie. She and her best friend Jason (Adam Scott) talk about anything, including a game where they pick which way is preferable to die. (One is alligator or shark.) Their friend couples are Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd and Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s partner), all of whom are having kids. Friends With Kids was promoted on the coattails of Bridesmaids, because it has those last four actors in common, but thankfully, it has a very different tone and avoids the gross-out humor. (Well, except for the body junk that comes with babies.)

Julie and Jason decide to have a kid together so they can avoid all the fights and other crap that come with settled-down marriages, based on what they see having happened to their friends. I didn’t quite buy the logic behind their choice, but then, I don’t understand the “must have kids” drive that the characters (and many other people) share. So I just accepted it as the premise to put them into an unusual situation and spawn the movie.

I didn’t laugh out loud much, but I didn’t approach Friends With Kids as much as a comedy as a sociological slice of urban observation, much like Woody Allen’s films capture a particular milieu. (It’s also a lot more female-friendly than his movies.) The dialogue is snappy, and the environment captures upscale city life. The performances are strong, and sometimes heart-breaking, particularly in the (lightly sketched) story of Wiig and Hamm’s couple, who go from sex bunnies who can’t stop touching each other to screaming passive-aggressive fighters. Overall, it’s about dealing with change as adults move from being singles to grown-up parents.

Even if I don’t have the baby impulse, I would like Julie’s life. Her hair is always gorgeous, she’s got a great apartment and a good job in the city and plenty of good friends, including the best boy friend who knows and loves her. It was funny watching how their life plays out once the baby arrives, even if the relationship aspects are predictable.

Later in the film, Ed Burns and Megan Fox show up as new dates for the not-couple. Everything comes to a turning point during a New Year’s Vermont skiing trip with all the pairings. The strongest performances in the film come in two scenes between Scott and Hamm, discussing who they really love and hope you cope with the difficult times.

I loved the way that Julie and Jason kept their lives together, even with a baby, because they went into things as a choice with great communication. Too many couples assume that being married will just take care of everything, and they forget that you need to agree on things and make tough choices and keep talking and make compromises. There is a certain amount of “babies are magic” on display here in bringing (and keeping) people together, but I can’t deny that a lot of people feel that way.

I’d also like to see the bookend movie, the one about the singletons who don’t want kids (and who are consistent in that position) who watch all their friends start reproducing. I don’t know anyone who acts like the characters in this movie — although I enjoyed spending time with them — but I do know people who just get on with their lives, coupled or not, without worrying about having babies.

Special Features

Westfeldt, Hamm, and Director of Photography William Rexer conduct a commentary for the film. In addition, there’s a typically puffy eight-minute making-of with Westfeldt and Hamm (who produced) as well as the rest of the main cast. The ad-libs and bloopers run 12 minutes, divided into two categories, actors and kids. (That second category just reminds me of how right W.C. Fields was when he didn’t want to work with children. They take time and patience.) Eight deleted scenes, a bit over eight minutes’ worth, can be played as a set or individually and with or without commentary.

“Scene 42: Anatomy of a Gag” is a five-minute scene where Julie and Jason explain their plan to their friends. You can run it with or without commentary, which talks about how much they ad-libbed. There’s an additional four minutes of Megan Fox showing Adam Scott how to play video games. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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