March 9, 2012




FRIENDS WITH KIDS:  Worth A Ticket – Sitcom, In A Good Way


We live in a pop culture where the recent Emmy Award nominees are so clearly superior to the films up for this past year’s Oscar that it’s not even worth arguing about. (Mad Men vs The ArtistGame of Thrones vs The HelpModern Family vs War Horse?  Seriously?)  So the days when one could look down at a movie comedy by calling it “sitcom” are pretty much done–comparing a movie to Parks & Recreation, Louie or New Girl is, if anything, high praise.


Calling Jennifer Westfeldt’s FRIENDS WITH KIDS akin to a sitcom, then, is more descriptive than critical.  The romantic-comedy-drama involves the inter-group relationships of 6 old friends who live in and around a major city (New York in this case), much as Happy Endings and How I Met Your Mother do.  The group includes 2 married couples:  Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd), and Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig).  The story centers, though, on the 2 who are single:  best buddies Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), who have been inseparable since college, but never romantically involved.  (They love each other unreservedly, but aren’t physically attracted.)


The movie’s title has double meanings, and the first is that as the story begins, Julie and Jason are feeling like the odd friends out, since both married couples are raising babies and/or toddlers, changing the dynamics of their marriages and the group in general.  Both Julie and Jason want children, but as they watch what parenthood is doing to their friends, and with each of them so far unable to find “the one” with whom they want to have it all, they eventually come to the title’s second meaning:  they decide to have a baby together, just as friends (outside dating encouraged), with responsibility and custody split down the middle and no change, they vow, in their own relationship.

You don’t need to have watched Ross and Rachel for all the years of Friends to figure out very quickly where all this is going to end up.  Nature may abhor a vacuum, but that’s nothing compared to the way romantic-comedy feels about 2 good-looking unattached pals who’ve considered romances with everyone on earth except each other.  The issue with a movie like Friends With Kids is just how enjoyable and insightful the journey to that destination is.

This is where Westfeldt, making her directing debut (she previously wrote Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby) acquits herself well.  Her script may be glib and, in the end, predictable, but it’s also marked by some sharp, bawdy humor, and later in the proceedings by more than a little surprisingly searing drama.  (A New Year’s Eve gathering for the group prompts a particularly scorching monologue from Hamm, who in his day job is not unacquainted with characters who bare dark undersides.)


It’s tempting but misleading to label Friends With Kids as trendily influenced by Bridesmaids, featuring as it does the same kind of 4-letter humor–much of it from the women characters–and half the same cast, but as it happens, Friends debuted at Toronto last fall, shortly after Bridesmaids hit theatres.  The similarities are superficial anyway, since Friends mostly eschews wacky slapstick for more of a concentration on relationships.  But the overlap in casts is all to the good, because these actors continue to be great together.  As for the newcomers:  Scott, who has been very dark indeed in indie movies like The Vicious Kind, brings a little of that edge to a less idealized romantic role than the one he plays in his own day job on Parks & Recreation.  Westfeldt makes a marvelous, funny pair with him, although one wishes that as a writer she’d resisted the cliche of having Julie be the sensitive one who’s the first to become overwhelmed with true emotion.  In the smaller roles of Julie and Jason’s significant romantic interests (think of them as the guest stars brought in for sweeps), Edward Burns effectively turns on the charm, and the much-maligned Megan Fox deserves some credit for completely holding her own with this high-powered ensemble.

Friends With Kids isn’t any kind of cinematic event–in terms of sheer quality, it’s not better than 2 hours of TV’s best comedies–but it provides the kind of self-contained 2-hour satisfaction that isn’t TV’s stock in trade (along with the kind of sex jokes confined to HBO and Showtime).  If you’ve been sitting on your couch long enough and want a smart, sophisticated and sometimes moving comedy on a bigger screen, this is the right movie to see.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."