Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movie Review: "Friends With Kids" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Actors: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns
Rated: R
Run Time: 107 min

"Friends With Kids" was just released on Blu-Ray, and I had known for a while that once this one came out I'd be picking it up for a rental. The themes displayed in the trailers looked like something I would really be into, but it was never a film that I cared to go sit in a theater for. The film received strong buzz from critics upon release, and the cast seemed really impressive; mostly people that I enjoy watching.

This romantic comedy-drama deals with relationships, good and bad, and different scenarios that unfold between couples when children are brought into into the picture. Sometimes they're unexpected, sometimes it was part of the grand plan, or sometimes you think you're beating the whole system with your modern philosophies on relationships and parenting. Everyone has their own idea of how to do it right (and why everyone else is doing it wrong), but what we really find out with this flick is, no matter what your situation, no one knows what the hell they're doing.

Jason and Julie (Scott and Westfeldt) see their friends all having kids and what a nightmare it appears to be. They're both single but long-time best friends, and in one drunken rant, they start bashing on the whole system and how relationships ruin the joys of children. Eventually they decide to have a child together, while keeping their relationship completely platonic - enjoy the child but also enjoy dating and not worrying about the mess of mixing the two together. From there, we see the next five years or so unfold of not only their lives, but the lives of their best friends. I won't go into much more detail, but from there we get varying stories of success and even failure. And as you can probably assume, as for Jason and Julie, things go great for a while, but eventually one of them develops feelings for the other and ruins the whole arrangement. The exterior plots in this film play out pretty predictably for our main characters after this, but honestly, that's of so little significance in this film that you aren't even worried about the film falling into generic plot devices.

The writing and the characters are the star of this show, make no doubts about it. The characters are so sharp and so well-written that for moments, the concepts of the film take a backseat to standard dialogue and conversations between them. It isn't often that the six top-billed characters make it into the same room together, but when they do, and all of these different personalities clash and mingle, it generally makes for a good time. These are the moments when not only the comedy, but also the tragedy, is at its best.

A few years ago I might not have said Adam Scott was right to carry a film, but he definitely made it work here. He provides a great interpretation of his character, even though we've seen this mold before. I think overall he stands out to me as the best performance, but though much smaller in scale, Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig provide pretty emotional characters too, both worthy of recognition. On the other side of things, it was predictably Megan Fox who really halted just about every scene she was in. Yes, she's enjoyable to look at, but she definitely stood out as the weak-link in this cast. She wasn't in the film much, and luckily even for the scenes she was in they limited her lines, but even taking her looks into account, it was too much.

The characters are all witty and unique, but the writing also stands out for its sexual frankness. Not of much surprise considering the cast (did they finish filming and literally all just decide to try it again?), but the overall tones play out very similarly to "Bridesmaids", where you have these real characters with real issues and emotions, but they also decide to spend a good majority of their time talking about vaginae, masturbating, and poop. Now, don't get me wrong, I feel like that puts this film in a very immature light - and it is immature, but I think about myself and my group of friends, and while we're not quite in our 30's yet, the age gap isn't much different, and I'm pretty confident that similar discussions are had on a regular basis. Basically, you just have to understand that there's a very fine line between being vulgar to be vulgar, and displaying characters in a very real way. This film toes that line, but I believe leans in the right direction. Nonetheless, the crudeness of the dialogue does make for plenty of good laughs.

(And by the way, probably mostly due to my connection with these situations much more so than a group of female bridesmaids, but I thought this film succeeded a bit more than "Bridesmaids" did, and I know that's a pretty strong statement)

I really enjoyed that we got to see all of these characters over a four of five year span as well. At the beginning of the film, before any of them had kids, they're all meeting at a fancy New York restaurant and complaining about some children at the table next to them. From there we get to see these personalities slowly change, some for the better and some for worse, but all ultimately mature and understand what it means to be a parent and how to cope with the difficulties that go along with it (Hamm's character specifically voices some pretty real issues at the end that felt pretty powerful to me).

There isn't much more to say for a film based almost entirely on its characters, so I think I'll just leave it at that. Overall, the film was a very enjoyable watch. There were moments when I laughed, and even, though c
liché, a scene at the end when Scott's character finally gets the big picture, that made a tear form in my eye. Though these characters are flawed and don't always end up how you might want or expect, they were still all incredibly easy to watch. Also, while I don't live in the New York area, I feel like the film also (probably) did a pretty good job of representing the modern, career-oriented, 30-something New Yorker. That was clearly a focus of the film, and it felt pretty natural to me.

I could see this film possibly not playing as well to others, depending on your current life situations, or even just your interests in character dramedies. Personally, when done right, this is one of my favorite genres of film, so definitely take that into account when deciding whether or not to give this a watch. I think the writing is still very inspired though, and there are still a handful of humorous situations embedded for just about anybody to appreciate.

I think this was a fresh take on the genre, but don't get any grand ideas, it didn't reinvent anything. It used the same formulas that most of these films do, but just did it with better, more genuine characters. If you didn't check it out in theaters, I'd definitely recommend picking it up for an evening watch.