With the foul-mouthed dramedy Friends with Kids, writer/producer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt is juggling so much, it’s a wonder there aren’t more jokes about balls. Depending on your tastes, odds are you’ll find something to like here, at least for a little while. Positioning Westfeldt as Julie, longtime best friend and neighbor of fellow Manhattanite Jason (Adam Scott), the script kicks off with a whole lot of sitcom lingo, like BFF conversation starters that are really just gun-on-the-mantle quips, bound to be recycled and fired off again later (“Death by shark or crocodile?” Julie asks during a late-night phone call). As the minutes—of which Julie is ever-conscious—tick by, the duo’s banter becomes a lot of hollow, retro ping-pong, the speedy delivery and sentence-finishing apparently stylized to evoke the best of Cary Grant. And then the chit-chat veers modern, covering odds and ends presumed to be important to New Yorkers of a certain age, and including enough profanity to maintain that edgy, in-vogue R rating. Throw in half the cast of Bridesmaids, who for a long time distractingly outshine the central pair, and you’ve got an arrangement that’s far more bizarre and unruly than the one that drives the film.
Of their core group of friends, Julie and Jason are the only two without kids, following an opening that announces a pregnancy for Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd), and a four-year leap that ends with Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm) carrying diaper bags too. Witnessing what havoc the whole married-with-children thing wreaks on everyone else (former nymphos Missy and Ben now hate each other’s guts, while hilarious squabblers Leslie and Alex have lost all shreds of glamour), Julie and Jason opt to give Julie a baby the newfangled way: by having sex and planting the seed, but maintaining their separate, single lives, simply sharing custody amid their friends-with-even-more-benefits scenario. “It feels like it’s coming out of my ass!” Julie screams in labor, and so continues a raunchy slant that’s occasionally funny, but often out of whack with a tender and strainingly chic tone, its doo-doo staining the Magnolia Bakery boxes and custom-framed Chrysler Building photography. Complete with an infant whose explosive diarrhea is used to gross out Megan Fox (her anchor-free hottie is one of many Jason dates), Westfeldt’s film arrives through the “Women Poop Too” door her co-stars helped to open, but it doesn’t have that proper air freshener of confidence and cohesion.
Nor, at first, does it have the proper chemistry, as Julie and Jason take a long time to click, and Westfeldt and Scott’s line readings, about hating kids in restaurants and cab fares to Brooklyn, initially sound like empty recitations. But as things move further to precisely where you know they’re headed, Friends with Kids begins to nestle into itself, and in a welcome switch, the leading couple rightly grabs the spotlight. Though perhaps not fully equipped to carry her own movie, Westfeldt, who’s been doing TV and theater work since co-creating 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein, has a talent for poignant moments and slowly winning your affection, her crises building merit as the movie presses on. Similarly, Scott starts off banal only to arrive at his finest hour as an actor, mightily acing a heated speech about Jason’s devotion to Julie, and finally going ultra-soft in a way no easily teary-eyed viewer will resist. Thanks to these performances, Julie and Jason’s contempo-parenting setup, which has them beating the traditionalists at their own game before requisite feelings arise, gains warmth and truth that radiates outward. The virtues culminate in a Big Chill-style dinner scene, which is aptly set during a snowy couple’s getaway and sees personalities and parental perspectives volley across the table in thrilling fashion. It may draw attention to the generally underwritten ensemble (Wiig’s gifts have never been more wasted), but it alone is great enough to warrant a ripped ticket.
Westfeldt aims to capture something generational and very current; however, her mixed bag yields very mixed results. Her overly rank transgressions combat simple intimacy, while her need for redundant, who’da-thunk resolutions combats a sincerely strong climax. In many ways, all she has to offer is a crude, thinly modernized version of a more-than-friends rom com you’ve seen too many times to count. (Really? A mad dash to the last scene?) But in others, what she has is a slowly unfurling and evolving labor of love, and as twee as it sounds, there’s something appropriate about her baby needing a little time to develop.