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

Bridesmaids – Review

Bridesmaids (2011) 

Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Kristen WiigTerry CrewsJessica St. Clair 

After those terrible bridal icecold showers like “Bride War” or  Runaway Bride or even “Father of the Bride 2” you might forgive me for going into the theatre with a sense of dread… expecting the worse: a chick-flick with bride in the title is usually a synonymous for shamefully bad film and basically a recipe for disaster!

Well, I am happy report that my fears were unfounded and that I was plainly wrong! This might be the exception that confirms the rule.

Yes, it is about the usual 30-something women going through a life-crisis and yes, it is about weddings, finding the right dress, being without a boyfriend and so on, but believe me it’s not half as empty or insulting as most of the movies out there (especially “Sex in the City 2”). In fact for the most part it avoids all the usual female stereotypes as it embraces situations which could easily be played by a male ensemble. But most crucially, it manages to be both rude and over the too and yet heartfelt and cute at the same time.

Some of the set pieces don’t always work as they should and some of the laughs are a bit of a hit-and-miss (the stuff with the room-mates, for example, is very flat and unfunny and ends up being completely redundant) and considering that the film is a touch too long, they should have probably made some trims here and there.

The moment everybody will be talking about is obviously the one involving some various bodily fluids, which is indeed quite funny and lavishly gross (as we’ve come to expect from a Judd Apatow production), however  it is actually the smaller, low-key moments and even more dramatic episodes in the film that make it worthwhile: the tender scenes with the policemen, the shared unspoken history of friendship between the brides and bridesmaid, the relationship between mother and daughter, and of course the depiction of the handsome narcissist and incredibly creepy (and funny!) Jon Hamm (“I really want you to leave but I don’t know how to tell you”).

The director, Paul Weig has made his name working on TV shows like “Nurse Betty“, “The Office“, “Weeds” and even Arrested Development , all very good shows which interestingly seem to share the same mix of rude humor, touching drama, uncomfortable moments and great acting: a blend which he was able to translate onto the big screen.

The whole thing gets elevated by the very good ensemble cast led by  Kristen Wiig who brings enough sensibility to make her character likable and strangely believable, despite the absurd situations. She can be both extremely funny and very touching at the same time in the same way Felicity Huffman from Desperate Housewives is (in fact she did remind me of her a lot). Hopefully we’ll see more of her in the future.

Bridesmaids is certainly not groundbreaking, nor is a game-changer in comedy movie history, but at least it gives back some credibility and integrity to this type of films and in this never-ending season of too-many-sequels, tired franchise and un-funny sterile and unoriginal comedies (Hangover 2 just to mention the most recent one), it is quite refreshing to find one that not only makes you laugh but at the same time it makes you care for the characters on the screen (I don’t think I am asking for too much, am I?!).

7/10

 And talking about bad comedies: check out my review of  THE DILEMMA

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