Friends with Kids – 3 stars

Romantic.  Comedy.  Can one be successful with only a little bit of both?  The Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn vehicle, The Breakup (2006), fell into the category, as it depicted the deterioration of a relationship primarily built on convenience and a shared apartment.  The scenes between Vaughn and Aniston were so arch and cringe-inducing you wondered, ‘where the hell is the ‘rom’ much less the ‘com’?'”

Friends with Kids makes The Breakup seem like Love Actually.  Three couples form the center: the unmarried, platonic sister-brother like duo (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt); the canoodling, just pregnant, earthy types (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd);and the sizzling, “just had sex in the bathroom” couple (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wigg).  We meet them at a fancy dinner in Manhattan and then fast forward four years to a second meal at the home of Rudolph and O’Dowd.  Scott and Westfeldt are unchanged, but Rudolph and O’Dowd are now sloppy, harried and laden with kids (she screams at him for doing nothing, he does less, and their kids scream all around them).  Hamm and Wigg bring their own newborn, who appears to be just one source of tension in their quietly crumbling relationship.  Scott and Westfeldt survey the wreckage, determine they can do it better, have their own baby while maintaining their independence (and separate apartments in the same building) and live happily ever after.

Well, no.  Westfeldt is in love with Scott, and Scott has absolutely no clue – he’s bought into their experiment.  In the meantime, they go on a ski trip with their friends, each bringing a new beau (Megan Fox and Ed Burns).  Hamm and Wigg implode, and Westfeldt realizes that her love for Scott is so strong she must profess it.

So, let’s tally.  The first scene of mayhem and bitterness (the four years later dinner) is depressing.  The scene of Scott and Westfeldt trying to make years of friendship square with sex to conceive is uncomfortable.  The scenes of Scott casually mentioning how awesome Fox is to Westfeldt are brutal.  The ski trip is akin to the dental examination in Marathon Man.  And Westfeldt’s profession of love, which is spurned by Scott, will open the vodka.

I liked the picture, but it ain’t no rom-com.  Scott, as always, is perfect, both wry and when it is called forth, impressively anguished.  What is funny in the picture is largely due to the crude banter between Scott and Westfeldt.  The other characters play well, save for Westfeldt, who also wrote and directed.  She is so pitifully earnest, it didn’t seem a fair fight.  And the exchanges between the couples are often illuminating.

The film is also quietly traditional.  Scott and Westfeldt do appear to be doing well on the outside with their arrangement, but as the fissures show, during the ski trip from hell, Hamm, in his own deteriorating marriage with Wigg (note: the mastermind of Bridesmaids provides not one single laugh in this picture) delivers an angry, vicious broadside against their hubris.

Scott delivers an effective rebuttal, which, of course, cements Westfeldt’s love for him:

You think that we don’t love each other? You know, I have loved this girl for nineteen years, Ben. That is fully half my life. I know everything there is to know about her. I know the mood she’s in when she wakes up in the morning – always happy, ready for the day. Can you imagine? I know that she is honest; she won’t even take the little shampoo bottles from the hotel room, or sneak into the movie theater for a double feature. She always buys a second ticket. Always. I know that we have the same values, we have the same taste, we have the same sense of humor. I know that we both think that organized religion is completely full of shit. I know that if she is ever paralyzed from the neck down, she would like me to unplug her – and I will. I know her position on just about everything, and I am on board. I am on board with everything about her, so you tell me, Ben. What better woman could I have picked to be the mother of my child?

Nonetheless, the film culminates in Scott’s realization that Hamm was right – you can’t just craft a perfect bubble of domestic bliss by jettisoning the inconvenient parts, such as “’til death do us” and fidelity.

Still, this movie can be a trial.  And the picture is not too traditional.  It is probably the only film to conclude with the line, “Fu** the sh** out of me.”

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