The Videogum Movie Club: Friends With Kids
It was difficult to predict how Friends With Kids would turn out. The cast was made up entirely of actors who have each proven their comedic, dramatic, and nice-to-look-at abilities, but paired with a so-so trailer and an easily tired-seeming story (friends try to get the benefits of an intimate relationship without becoming emotionally involved), there seemed to be a fairly good chance that it wouldn’t be as great as we all hoped it would be. Not to say that I don’t believe a story about friends teetering on the relationship line could be fresh and compelling — I certainly do believe that it could be, even though it’s hard to think of any examples of movies that have based their plots on that successfully, and if anyone could do it I would think that THESE guys could do it — but it is definitely a topic that can easily seem formulaic and ugh and who cares. Friends With Kids didn’t quite turn out like that, but also it wasn’t very good! Daaaaaang. Bummer summer. Let’s talk about it.
Really, the first problem with Friends With Kids came when I was buying tickets I asked the ticket attendant for two tickets to “Friends With Benefits,” which, when I later realized what I did, was very embarrassing and I place the blame entirely on writer, director, and lead actress Jennifer Westfeldt. Why would she do that to me? When I was just trying to see her movie, like a FRIEND? The other problems with Friends With Kids also didn’t come from the story, necessarily. I think it’s safe to say that we all accepted that by the end of the movie Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott would get together, because if they didn’t then it would actually just be a movie about two friends successfully raising a baby, and that movie sounds terrible. The ups and downs of their relationship made sense and were done well enough for a romantic comedy. But the main problem, I think, was that the movie wasn’t really a romantic comedy. Or a drama. Or anything?
The level of humor in Friends With Kids was almost negligible, to be very harsh but also, I think, pretty fair. When it was there it felt forced and sitcom-y, which was hard to watch coming from a cast that could have certainly brought a lot to a stronger script, and when it wasn’t there the drama was hard to care about because why do we even care about these people with barely-developed sitcom personalities who aren’t even funny and who we don’t even like? In general, shitty romantic comedies can survive on flimsy well-worn ideas, as long as their characters are cute and charming and make the right kind of jokes, because everyone knows what they’re getting into with a shitty romantic comedy. No one is complaining that Friends With Benefits, for example, wasn’t funny enough, just as they aren’t complaining that they didn’t care about the characters enough, because it was exactly as funny and as relatable as was expected by the general shitty romantic comedy viewer. But in theory Friends With Kids reached both higher and deeper than a shitty romantic comedy, with its cast full of everybody we love because they are all so funny, and also Jennifer Westfeldt who wrote Kissing Jessica Stein which some of us may like, relying not on the well-worn ideas, and therefor abandoning much of the leeway a person gives to a shitty romantic comedy. But it then, in practice, Friends With Kids went on to completely rely on that leeway. And you’re thinking, But I’ve already abandoned the leeway! And Friends With Kids is like, Oh no, you needed that!
For example, I didn’t expect to have to understand who the main characters were based mostly on a few tossed-off character traits (“works at a nonprofit,” “likes tits,” “are friends who call each other and play the ‘would you rather’ game as if they’re the only people who have ever heard of that game”). Each of Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt’s characters felt like they were picked from a Character In A Movie closet, and then forced over the bodies of actors who were a much different size. Adam Scott can play many things, I’m sure, but a man who “loves big tits” and calls Jennifer Westfeldt “doll,” he cannot. God, the “doll” part was the worst part of it all! When he said that the first time I thought, “Oh no, that’s definitely going to be a thing.” And then it WAS a thing. And it was a TERRIBLE THING! Yuck. Terrible. No thank you. No normal person calls their friend “doll,” least of all a normal person being played by Adam Scott. The “loves big tits” part wouldn’t have even bothered me so much if the rest of Adam Scott’s character weren’t just a less-funny version of a normal, sweet, kind of nerdy and understated character Adam Scott generally plays. We were told that he was a playboy “serial dater” who loves banging chicks with big boobs and always broke up with the girls and never the other way around, but we were never shown him acting like someone who would have that lifestyle. The only occasion on which it would have been able to be shown to us was when he met Megan Fox for the first time. Like, he will pick up this hot chick and be super charming or at least Jim Halpert-level charming, and then we’ll finally understand what his personality is like around these women. But no — in his first meeting with Megan Fox he was just as nerdy and charming-in-the-nerdy-way as always. (And I do understand that this is because Megan Fox is super hot and obviously NO MAN is going to be super cool around her, but another scene of Adam Scott acting like Adam Scott didn’t help the image of the character we kept being told was part Seann William Scott.) (GET IT?)
The other thing that bothered me about that scene is when he said he wasn’t gay, and to not let the product in his hair fool you? UH, THERE WAS NO PRODUCT IN HIS HAIR! His hair looked terrible and just kind of flat and normal!
There were other scenes where he def had product in his hair, but not obviously in that scene. Which seems like a nitpicky thing, but it is part of a larger complaint, so please relax. There was also another occasion, when Jennifer Westfeldt was crying to Maya Rudolph about how she was in love with Adam Scott, when they referred to him as “kind of effeminate.” But that character wasn’t effeminate at all! When was he shown to be even slightly effeminate? It was as if bits of “character traits” were thrown in the dialogue to make up for the fact that nothing that would lead a viewer to pick up on character traits was present in the action. That was frustrating. And with Jennifer Westfeldt’s character, we weren’t even given that much. I don’t remember anything specific about that character, other than when she described her job to Kurt — “I help a rich guy pick which charities to give his money to.” Otherwise, what? She wanted a baby? She was nice? She and Adam Scott were friends who asked each other “would you rather” questions all the time? Again, probably enough information to understand the “girl” character in a shitty romantic comedy, but not enough here.
The roles of their friends both did and did not have similar problems. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd’s relationship was the most convincing — we were able to see moments of hardship and moments of reconciliation and moments of just normal love. But Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig’s relationship seemed to be thrown at you saying, “You get it, it’s this kind of relationship, the bad kind” without ever giving us a moment to know those characters specifically. It was interesting to see Kristen Wiig in what amounted to be only a dramatic character, rather than comedic, but her relationship with Jon Hamm was never explored between “wanting to have sex all the time” and “being completely miserable.” It didn’t need to be, necessarily, because it was only there to act as a foil to everyone else’s relationship, but a little more would have helped the viewer to care about their scenes and specifically their relationship’s downfall during the skiing trip. That isn’t to say, though, that Jon Hamm’s rant about Adam and Jennifer’s irresponsibility (and Adam’s response) wasn’t convincing — that was probably the best part of Friends With Kids. It seemed honest and real, where the rest of the movie seemed to be trying to force the idea of significance (without ever supplying it) and the idea of higher-level humor (without ever supplying it) on a middling romcom, leaving you without even the dumb pleasure of a middling romcom.
So, THAT’S THAT. When my friend and I were talking about it after we left the theater, neither of us really knew how to respond to the question “what did you think?” Both of our answers amounted to something like, “I…don’t think I liked it very much?” But it was confusing. Everyone in Friends With Kids was wonderful, and doing the best they could with what they had. But in an attempt at significance, the movie veered too much into the “drama” category without giving its characters the depth needed to make it work. And in relying too much on the reputation of its actors, the movie was light on comedy in general, not to mention how light it was on the kind of “smart” or at least modern comedy one would expect from its cast. So I’m not sure what it was, exactly? A romcomdram without really hitting the mark on either the com or the dram, and the rom part not carrying much weight due to the lack of a strong com or dram. Not terrible, but also not very good, and certainly disappointing.
I thought the ending was good, though! When he told her he wanted to fuck her? That seemed honest and fresh — a lot of what the rest of the movie was missing. If only the rest of it could have been like the part where Adam Scott told Jennifer Westfeldt that he wanted to fuck her.
Also the baby was very cute.