Friends With Kids, the directorial debut of Jennifer Westfeldt (who wrote and starred in Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby) is a delightful romantic comedy crafted by someone who understands the recipe and yet still can make it her own. It’s funny without being ridiculous, sweet without turning sentimental, even though it involves parenthood. Its raunchy sense of humor helps on that score: Friends With Kids cheerfully earns its R rating on language alone, but always in service of a good laugh.
The film follows what happens when two platonic Manhattan friends, Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (the terrific Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation), witness their married pals melting down once they have children. One couple (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) bicker amid a household of chaos. Another couple (Jon Hamm and Kristin Wiig), who once couldn’t keep their hands off each other, don’t even want to be in the same room. And nobody ever seems to want to leave Brooklyn.
So Julie and Jason make a plan: They’ll have and raise a kid together, with no troublesome romantic issues to get in the way of their friendship. They’ve known each other forever. They live in the same building and giggle over secret in-jokes. They’re not attracted to each other. Jason, in fact, is fond of rhapsodizing about how much he likes big breasts. So what if he’s a jerk as a date? He’s a good buddy. What could possibly go wrong?
That question is the cornerstone of quality romantic comedy, and though Friends With Kids heads in a familiar direction, getting there is a lot of fun. Westfeldt smartly skimps on the pathos and the drama. A baby is conceived, and everything’s great. Then womanizing Jason finally meets a dancer (Megan Fox) he’s serious about and Julie starts dating a good-guy contractor (Edward Burns), the “Holy Grail” of the elementary school divorced parent set — and suddenly she’s re-evaluating the situation, while he raves about its perfection.
What elevates Friends With Kids is how it arrives at its foregone conclusion while still remaining fresh and consistently amusing. That’s due to Westfeldt’s ear for dialogue — her characters often talk over each other excitedly, the way real people do — and the strength of the actors, a sort of a Who’s Who of Bridesmaids. The best rom-coms always have lively supporting casts, and Friends With Kids wouldn’t be the same without slyly funny work from Rudolph and O’Dowd. Wiig and Hamm (Westfeldt’s real-life partner, damn her) have trickier roles; their increasing bitterness finally erupts on a ski vacation, and when it does it just about melts everything in its path. The decision to cast the hilarious Wiig against type in one of the movie’s more serious (and slightly underwritten) roles, is curious, but it works anyway.
Still, don’t be fooled. Friends With Kids may not be wholly traditional — in general romantic comedy characters don’t shout “Your vagina looks like a jellyfish!” unless Judd Apatow is involved — but in the end it salutes the importance of family and friendship, values that never lose their appeal. Especially when you’re laughing.
Cast: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Edward Burns, Megan Fox.
Writer-director: Jennifer Westfeldt.
Producers: Joshua Astrachan, Riza Aziz, Lucy Barzon Donnelly, Jon Hamm, Jake Kasdan, Joey McFarland, Jennifer Westfeldt.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 107 minutes. Sexual content, language. Opens Friday March 9 at area theaters.
Follow Connie Ogle on Twitter at @OgleConnie.