Film review: Friends With Kids (15)

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HOW much you enjoy Jennifer Westfeldt’s reproductive comedy rather depends on what your idea of a good trade-off is. In particular, do you love Mad Men’s Jon Hamm enough to watch his real-life partner Westfeldt hog the soft focus filter and most of the screentime?

**

Director: Jennifer Westfeldt

Running time: 107 minutes

In the most shameless vanity vehicle since Sylvester Stallone bestrode the 1980s, writer-director Westfeldt and co-star Adam Scott play New Yorkers Julie and Jason, who have been best friends since university. He’s a fast-talking advertising executive who compulsively pursues big-breasted women. She’s a mild, smiley woman who appears to have a busy, stylish career helping a rich old man spend his money on good causes. Why does Remploy never advertise jobs like that?

Both of them have reached the stage of wanting children, but are dismayed by the effect bringing up babies has on their friends. Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd) seem to have little time for anything other than fighting and sleeping. Ben (Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) have devolved into toxic bitterness. So Julie and Jason congratulate themselves on keeping their relationship platonic, and arrange to conceive a child which they can raise between them, while continuing to look for the true loves of their lives.

It’s a plan with some pretty obvious flaws, but Westfeldt’s script never acknowledges that we can spot the incoming complications from space. Instead, she shows the smug pair transitioning into parenthood without a hitch – except that Julie now thinks she loves Jason. Of course she does; what woman wouldn’t fancy a boorish blowhard who calls you up to discuss the rack on his latest conquest (Megan Fox)?

There’s a funny film to be made about unconventional family configurations, but Friends With Kids isn’t it. The dull plotting quickly becomes a conventional boy-girl narrative with cheesy romance and contrived one-liners. It’s a missed opportunity, and a waste of a talented supporting cast. Since Julie and Jason are neither charming nor interesting, you keep hoping that the film will pan across to the other two couples. The partnership between O’Dowd and Rudolph is unforced and rather charming, while Wiig and Hamm were memorably paired as a disaster couple in Bridemaids last year. This time, however, Hamm gets just one big speech, while Wiig’s game face is so strained you could use it to drain pasta.

Also exasperating is Westfeldt’s limitless self-appreciation, which includes filming her character as if she was Doris Day, and giving Jason a three-minute speech listing how great Julie is. Even more excruciating are the jokes about bathroom habits, boobs and stretched vaginas. This may be an attempt to earn brownie points for sardonic frankness, but it feels like a crude attempt to ingratiate the film with the kind of young, bored teen boy who wouldn’t be seen dead watching Friends With Kids anyway, even if there was free Megan Fox in the foyer.

• On general release from Friday