Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Friends with Kids": Why Doesn’t It Work?

     Jennifer Westfeldt is a charming writer/director/actor who made a lovely romantic comedy, Kissing Jessica Stein, a decade ago.  It was honest, intriguing, and a little kinky in its story of a nice Jewish girl exploring bisexuality in her quest for love and self-identity.  I had high hopes for Friends with Kids because of that earlier movie and a cast including Adam Scott, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns.  It’s a potentially phenomenal group of comedic and dramatic actors.  I expected something akin to Four Weddings and a Funeral, but it was more like a second-rate version of The Switch (a movie I liked).

Dexter with Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott
     Westfeldt has a sweet, smart persona, but she isn’t a star and that matters when she’s in scenes with Wiig and Hamm, who both can fill in a lot of blanks in their characters because
audiences find them interesting.  They have little to do in this movie and, though they do it well, I wanted to see much more of them.  Rudolph and O’Dowd’s connections to Bridesmaids will perk up an audience, but they’re a frustrated, secretly reactionary couple that loudly argue while onscreen.  Adam Scott is witty, sincere, and has his own comic rhythm.  He deserves an excellent script and he behaves as if he’s found it.  

     Other reviewers have liked the first two-thirds of the movie and disliked the last part;  I felt the opposite.  It’s about a couple of best friends that decides to have a baby, raise it together, and not be romantically attached.  Of course, since romantic comedy is a pretty conservative genre and this wants to be commercially successful yet retain its indie cred, you know they’ll end up together.  The plot either needed to show us more layers about this couple and really focus on them from the beginning or present a far more interesting ensemble of characters, especially since the acting talent could go through the roof.  One married couple is horny a lot, then has kids, then is pissed and at each other, then divorced.  It wasn’t cute, funny, sad, or poignant, though the actors gave it their all.  The dialogue needed a shot of ingenuity and genuine laughs, rather than the continual cursing and greeting card sentimentality that characterized it.

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