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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friends With Kids

If you can get over the urge to smack Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt upside their heads and yell, “Get together already!” then Friends With Kids is actually a lively, original, low-stakes comedy with a fresh voice and some trenchant observations about what it takes to make a family work. Of course, if you can’t help but find the wait for the big epiphanic “we should be a couple” moment tedious, then it might be hard to appreciate the film’s modest charms.

Jason and Jules are privileged Manhattanites of the age where their friends are having kids, moving to Brooklyn, and walling themselves off from the single life. And as single people in movies are wont to do, they think they can do better. They hatch a plan to have and raise a baby together without any romantic commitment to each other.

Even though no one knows anyone who would do such a thing, the film largely manages to sell this device, especially through the incredulity with which the idea is received by the strong supporting cast. The two couples which comprise their friends are played by a Bridesmaids’ reunion quartet of Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Chris O’Dowd.

The film kicks into gear when Jason and Jules re-enter the dating world, he with a young dancer played by Megan Fox, she with a divorced father played by Edward Burns. Here the film occasionally devolves into the kind of dispiriting series of contrivances that keep “perfect” couples apart in much less pretentious rom-coms.

Still, the acting here is top notch, and several set-pieces showcase the strength of Westfeldt’s script. A group dinner at a ski lodge turns into a nasty, personal fight when a few drinks loosen tongues and real feelings pour out. Hamm in particular is wonderful, as his willingness to play the heel serves the film well. (There will be no carping that he only got the film because he is sleeping with the director.)

As for the lead pair, it’s possible I’m just too predisposed to like Adam Scott to find his behavior in the movie believable. Jennifer Westfeldt’s line-readings show that she has a great grasp of who this character is (as she should, having written it) but her facial expressions are often comically frozen and disconnected from her character’s emotions. I suspect she has had a few plastic surgeries too many.

Still, Friends With Kids is full of likable performers bouncing off of one another enjoyably, a fact which serves as the spoonful of sugar for its admittedly hard-to-swallow premise.

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