What I thought was going to be an interesting exploration about families made out of all sorts of partnerships turned out to be another, albeit unique, heteronomative romantic dramedy. One that worked much more successfully than The Vow, meaning that it gave me warm fuzzes, angsty goosebumps, and empathetic teary eyes, all the signs of a good romance. The film was directed, written, and stars Jennifer Westfeldt (also annoyingly described as Jon Hamm’s lady friend in almost everything about her), best known as the writer and star of indie darling Kissing Jessica Stein. I admit, I haven’t seen Kissing Jessica Stein. I remember the buzz when it came out, but felt some reluctance to sit down and watch it as I was afraid that it depicted bisexuality as an option for a lonely woman, an alternative, a convenience. Another reviewer had a similar first opinion as mine, but ended up with with a positive view of the film, so maybe I’ll give it a chance. But I digress…
Friends with Kids, like Kissing Jessica Stein, explores alternative relationships and the boundary between friendship and romance. In the film, best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julia (Westfeldt) decide to have a child together, raising it as partners, but not as a romantic couple to avoid turning into the loveless, angry zombies their friends with kids have become. The lack of sexual attraction between the two is beaten over the audience’s head complete with an awkward sex scene, non-sexual body commentary between the friends, and repeated exclamations about “it” not existing between the two. Obviously, this is a set-up for the eventual romantic angst between the two, but in the beginning I thought it was a great premise. Two compatible people, who clearly love each other (and can articulate this love, as seen in Jason’s passionate speech to their deriding friends), who both want children, choosing to parent. The child is the goal, not the sex that makes the kid happen. I think that’s a great family model and I don’t believe that opposite sex partners have to become romantically involved, even when sharing the intimacy of child-rearing. I also think that the issue of dating other people was inflated by the film, as many children grow up in blended families, many of which don’t involve people co-parenting with respect for each other.
Still, I rather liked the film, and not just because it gave me warm fuzzies. Parts of it were quite funny, parts of it emotionally moving, even if the other parts were a tad uneven. I especially enjoyed the ensemble view into different couples. Well, ‘enjoy’ might not be the best word, especially in regards to Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig’s relationship. Their dysfunction, though uncomfortable to watch, serves to show the ways in which Jason and Julia work, first as a family, and later, as a couple. The intimate moments of Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd’s marriage were actually the most relatable to me and I’d like to see a film about their story. From the outside, their fatigue and exhaustion from having children makes it seem like their love is gone, partially inspiring Jason and Julia’s experiment. But additional scenes show that their relationship might have changed in its components, it hasn’t in substance. The same type of change also happens to Jason and Jules’s partnership, though from a more fairy style/dramatic perspective. What they were before to each other is the core that will keep them together romantically and as a family.
So while Friends with Kids might not have turned out to be the alternative family treatise I was looking for, it’s a sweet romantic comedy that is open about sex and life and friendships, doesn’t star the vapid Carrie Bradshaw and her ilk, and treats love as more than bunnies and kittens and fuzzy little ducks.
More, please, Ms. Westfeldt!