Boy meets girl. Boy and girl make friends. One time boy and girl have sex and make a baby. And if Hollywood has anything to say about it, naturally, boy and girl are soul mates.
That’s the basic gist behind “Friends with Kids,” an indie comedy directed by Jennifer Westfeldt (“Notes From the Underbelly”) playing at Sundance Cinemas.
The movie centers on an ensemble cast of three couplings. Jon Hamm (“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”) and Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”) are hopelessly consumed with lust for each other. Maya Rudolph (“Up All Night”) and Chris O’Dowd (“The Sapphires”) are low-key but in love. And Westfeldt and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) are a pair of best friends who decide to have and raise a child together after all their friends do.
When they decide to attempt conceiving said child, playboy Jason (Scott) and the more reserved Julie (Westfeldt) have to remind each other to pretend to be attracted to each other. And while their friends’ marriages begin to crumble, Jason and Julie’s friendship remains perfectly intact after their son is born. But when Jason starts dating a young and super sexy dancer (Megan Fox, “Passion Play”) and Julie woos a handsome super dad (Edward Burns, “Man on a Ledge”), tensions begin to rise and the duo starts to question if their one night of attraction ever really ended.
Behind the clever fa?ade of anatomical jokes and the already proven to be hilarious duo of Kristen Wiig and Maya Ruduloph in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” “Friends with Kids” is just a glorified chick flick. Well, a glorified chick flick with a puzzling element that doesn’t really belong in any movie – Adam Scott constantly getting laid.
Besides the odd coupling of Scott and Fox, the ensemble cast doesn’t give audiences anything new to watch; it all feels like borrowed material: Scott’s deadpan humor from “Parks and Rec” and “Party Down,” Wiig’s and Rudolph’s subdued nature from “Bridesmaids,” Hamm’s douchebaggery from “Mad Men” and Fox’s sex appeal from every time she’s posed for a camera. At least cute but mousy Julie is a good match for equally cute but equally mousy Jason.
This isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining. The same exterior of a great ensemble cast and dirty jokes is what separates “Friends with Kids” from the likes of “New Year’s Eve,” or even worse, “Valentine’s Day.” But a room full of talent is still just a room full of talent without something spectacularly written.
At times, the film seems to be grabbing at indie cred that’s just out of reach. The film opens with playful Regina Spektor’s “Hotel Song” narrating the audience’s first encounter with the protagonist duo, and the soundtrack follows up with similarly quirky tunes. And its premise is similarly eccentric, making child-rearing seem like a trendy activity that should definitely be pursued with a friend if all your friends are having one.
While the script eventually challenges itself, “Friends with Kids” starts out as a fresh angle for a tired story. But that’s not how it ends. What’s frustrating about Hollywood values is that its movies present progressive ideas – here, raising a kid with a non-romantic partner, a movie concept whose precedence was set by last year’s “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached” – and then annihilate them by its third act. Because, clearly, sex should (and will) always lead to marriage, and men and women simply can’t be “just” friends. Ever.
And next to the run-of-the-mill, rom com camerawork, the set design will comfort graduating seniors who want to make it big in New York City – rest assured, according to almost every movie that takes place in New York, apartments in Manhattan and houses in Brooklyn are not only gigantic but also within financial reach of the middle class. Even if you sell beer for a living.
But despite the inherently misguided nature and mostly formulaic concepts in the screenplay, the bits of dark and dirty humor are the movie’s savior. One enjoyable trope that holds the film together by a fragile thread is Jason and Julie’s morose game in which they must decide how they’ll die, given two choices. “Aneurysm or cancer”? “Gator or shark attack”? they quip.
With Westfeldt’s general charm and the star-studded cast, it’s difficult to straight out dislike “Friends with Kids.” But its treatment of parenthood and relationships is childish.
Three out of five stars