Friends with Kids – Review

Friends with Kids (2011) 

Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt. Starring: Jennifer WestfeldtAdam ScottJon HammKristen WiigMaya RudolphChris O’DowdMegan FoxEdward Burns

Making a good romantic comedy is not as easy as you might think. Comedies in general  have always been the overlooked genre when it comes to recognition or even awards: there is a certain (unfair) snobbery about them and an even greater misconception: because they talk about lighter subjects than, let’s say, the holocaust or war or cancer (just to mention the few obvious ones), we should not consider them as serious films…  Obviously calling them “rom-com” doesn’t quite helped their case either…

Isn’t it incredible that people still look at the 50s and 60s for the favourite comedies (Some like it Hot or the Apartment)? Or that we still quote those classic Woody Allen movies from the 70s? And when asked about the best rom-com (there you, I’m saying that too!) many will go back 23 years to that little jewel of a movie called When Harry Met Sally. It’s not surprising then to see writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt going back to exactly those types for her directorial debut.

Friends with Kids owes a lot the best Wood Allen (nowadays we must specify ‘best’, as there’s good Woody and dreadful Woody), both in its settings (New York, of course) and in the sharp and witty dialogue exchanges. But there are lots of echoes from When Harry Met Sally too, in fact it could almost be called “When Harry and Sally had a kid“. But while in Rob Reiner‘s classic the question was “Can a man and a woman be friends without sex getting in the way?”, in Friends with kids the question gets updated to “Can a man and a woman have a child, without getting stuck into the trappings of married life?”.

The actual premise and the excuse for the film is definitely rather out-fetched, gimmicky and to a degree it might feel a bit forced, but if you’re willing to go with it, what you’ll find beyond is an incredibly well-observed and smart piece of comedy about the painful truths of parenthood, about getting older, about responsibilities and friendship.

Westfeldt relies more on her characters and their dialogue to make us smile, or cry, or simply think, as opposed to resorting on cheap gags, or shots of cute babies (well OK, you get a couple of those too… But you get my point). This is an actors’ film, first and foremost and the cast is truly impeccable.

Adam Scott had already shown what he could do with the underrated (and rather harsh and depressing) HBO series Tell Me You Love Me: in this film he makes a potentially unlikable and tricky character, warm, sympathetic and charismatic.

However the film is also packed with other characters, which once again remind us of Harry and Sally’s types of friends: these are all people rooted into the real world, instantly recognizable to anyone struggling to find love before the clock runs out, anyone dating, anyone who’s been married for a long time, anyone who’s had kids or who’s about to have some. Like in the real world, there’s no black and white here: each relationship in the film feels true, people are not simply bad or good, they fall in and out of love, they come and go in and out of your life.

Everybody is perfect, even if they just appear in a few scenes. Jon Hamm shines, as he always does, and makes the most of his tiny role, even Edward Burns manages to be incredibly likeable and there’s even a surprisingly turn from Megan Fox, who shows she’s not just a pretty face… and body, and legs.. and… OK well, you get it.

It all comes to a head during an excruciating dinner sequence with no less than 8 people sitting around a table, which is not just beautifully directed and skilfully handled, but also it’s where the film really shows its cards and goes beyond the simple rom-com boundaries.

It’s interesting to see this film only a few weeks away from the clichè-riddled What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Both stories essentially tackle the same issues, but while WTEWURE goes for the easy Hollywood way (i.e. schmaltzy, A-list packed-cast, cheap jokes and so on), this one takes its time to work around its characters and aims at reaching a much more mature audience: it’s not just the situation that feels real but way the characters behaves in that particular situation.

Unfortunately there are some slips here and there: the excessive and unnecessary vulgarity of some of the dialogue does feel a bit forced and some jokes to do with kids seem to belong to a different kind of film (It’s “Three men and a Baby” territory, more than Annie Hall‘s)… And the ending might make some people cringe a little bit… However most of Friends with Kids is so honest and balanced that it feels wrong be harsh about it. In an age where good romantic comedies are so rare (they only come once every two years, if we are lucky!) we should treasure films like these, which at least try to be a little bit more intelligent and step away from the clichés of the genre.

7.5/10 

Check out my review of What To Expect When You’Re Expecting

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