Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm, an unmarried, child-free couple for 15 years, noticed something about their friends with kids: These harried parents were becoming strangers and disappearing from their lives. A light bulb went off. Why not produce a movie on the topic? Mad Men star Hamm would take a role and bring in a few of his friends from Bridesmaids – Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd. And Westfeldt, who co-wrote and acted in the indie hits Kissing Jessica Stein in 2001 and 2006’s Ira & Abby, would take a role and make her debut as a solo writer and director. Pressure? Bring it on.
The result is Friends With Kids, an indelibly funny and touching comedy with a real sting in its tail. The laughs leave scars. For this, credit Westfeldt, an actress of rare wit and grace, and now a filmmaker with a keen eye for nuance. Westfeldt plays Julie, a thirtysomething Manhattanite who can’t find a guy to make her feel as alive as Jason (Adam Scott), her platonic BFF from college. Her peers have already coupled up. Missy (Wiig) and Ben (Hamm) are so hot for each other, they sneak off for quickies. Leslie (Rudolph) and Alex (O’Dowd), appalled at the sight of kids in chic restaurants, live lives out of Sex and the City.
Skip ahead four years, and everything changes. Leslie and Alex have two kids they can barely handle, and have exiled themselves to Far Tortuga, meaning Brooklyn. Missy and a heavy-drinking Ben cope with a newborn and snipe at each other. The tension isn’t missed by Julie and Jason, but even they decide to enter the baby fray. One caveat: They share custody but maintain separate apartments and lives. When baby Joe is born, Jason still finds time to bonk dancer Maryjane (a standout Megan Fox), and Julie finds bliss in Kurt (Edward Burns, very fine), a divorced father of two. They’re the envy of all their friends until Julie starts having feelings for the father of her child.
Westfeldt has cleverly set a series of traps to show how parenthood defines character. A gimmick? For sure. But amid the potent hilarity, Westfeldt unearths painful home truths, especially at a Vermont cabin where the friends lick their wounds and create new ones.
The cast could not be better. Wiig is seriously good, giving her cold-steel scenes with the excellent Hamm a wounding edge. Rudolph and O’Dowd provide the healing warmth the film needs. And Scott, of Parks and Recreation, is terrific as a pussy hound who grows into a man of feeling. But this is Westfeldt’s show. In front of the camera and behind it, she’s the live current that pulls us in and makes us care. Westfeldt is the pulse of Friends With Kids, presenting us with life in all of its vibrant, messy sprawl.