'Friends with Kids' doesn't exactly have the most original premise. In fact, one can probably guess exactly how it's going to end based on the back cover description alone. It adheres to numerous standard romantic comedy conventions and even features a few scenes that could conceivably fit right at home in any number of disposable Hollywood rom-coms... and yet, the film has one very important quality that far too many similar efforts lack. A genuine voice. Despite some familiar plotting and clear influences (most notably Woody Allen, Rob Reiner, and Nora Ephron), writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt manages to distinguish her movie from the pack, coming away with a sincere, heartfelt, smart, and insightful film about friendship and family.
Jason and Julie (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt) are the last childless members of their close group of friends (Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Chris O'Dowd). Dismayed by the negative effects the kids seem to have had on their friends' relationships, the two best pals hatch a plan to have their cake and eat it too. They decide to conceive and raise a baby together, but forgo a romantic connection in favor of still dating other people. While this unconventional pairing seems to work rather well at first, complications arise (as they always do) when once purely platonic feelings start to grow and evolve.
I remember rolling my eyes when I first saw the trailer for 'Friends with Kids' in theaters. Despite the surprisingly strong cast, to me, it just looked like any other recycled romantic comedy. Still, the talented, likeable ensemble intrigued me enough to want to check it out. As the film began and the plot started to go down its entertaining but predictable path, I was seemingly vindicated in my assumptions -- but then something unexpected happened. No, the plot doesn't suddenly go down a shocking path or randomly break away from genre conventions, but as the running time continues, Westfeldt's voice as a writer and director starts to truly form and take shape. What begins as a harmless but fairly light story, gradually takes on real emotional weight, and instead of just breezily skimming the surface, the filmmakers decide to go all in, examining all of the deeper implications and messy consequences of its potentially shallow premise.
Frank discussions about relationships and parenthood litter the script, weaving a dialogue driven story that leaps through time rather liberally. Westfeldt even defies expectations in some respects, choosing to almost completely skip her character's on-screen pregnancy (and all of the over-used jokes and observations that come with it). Yes, there are a few obvious gags here and there, but the humor is quite smart, and often relies on a slightly improvisational style full of little sarcastic jabs. The aforementioned Woody Allen and Rob Reiner are very clear influences, but that's not a bad thing at all. Once again, the divide between male and female New Yorkers is examined in full force, and using Allen and Reiner's works as a template, Westfeldt manages to blend intelligent comedy and affecting drama, while still infusing her own unique perspective. Not all of the observations are particularly new or original, but the filmmakers' take on the material is surprisingly insightful, and at times, downright moving.
The two leads have effortless chemistry, and their very brother/sister relationship evolves in a natural and believable fashion. Scott and Westfeldt are perfect foils for each other, complementing and contrasting different aspects of their personalities. The rest of the ensemble are all great in their roles, but are a little underutilized. This is especially true of Kristen Wiig who doesn't get much to do (it seems like scheduling conflicts might be the culprit in this regard). Still, they all impress in the time they're given, and a heated argument between Jon Hamm and Adam Scott's characters is particularly memorable, and perfectly executed by both performers. Even the pretty to look at but usually cinematically challenged, Megan Fox, comes across just fine. Most of the cast are all actual longtime friends, and their real life familiarity shines through, enhancing the characters' relationships.
While I don't want to actually give anything specific away, like I said in the opening paragraph, most viewers will know exactly how the film is going to end. As the movie moved closer and closer to its inevitable climax, I debated with myself whether or not I'd be able to stomach the predictable outcome. When the time came, and a clichéd on-screen epiphany (complete with a rousing music cue) played out before my eyes, I was somewhat surprised to find myself not recoiling in dismay. You see, the filmmakers don't resort to lazy tactics, and though the movie doesn't completely shed the standard romantic comedy formula, Westfeldt puts in the necessary on-screen work to earn the script's ending. The struggles, joys and heartaches the characters go through lead to real growth, creating an entertaining and perceptive journey. Despite my jaded, critic sensibilities, I wouldn't want it to end any other way.
'Friends with Kids' is an insightful, funny romantic dramedy that manages to find an actual voice mixed in with a few tried-and-true beats. It's not breaking any new ground, but it presents a well told, entertaining, and ultimately touching story. Westfeldt doesn't shy away from the very messy, complicated issues her characters face, leading to some surprisingly deep drama. There are a few rough patches early on as the flick finds its footing, but for a directorial debut, Westfeldt demonstrates an unexpectedly confident style. The film isn't quite in the same league as the Woody Allen or Rob Reiner classics it takes inspiration from ('Annie Hall,' 'When Harry Met Sally'), but it is leaps and bounds ahead of its contemporary romantic comedy peers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate brings 'Friends with Kids' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers, the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally in high definition, the film features a razor sharp, detailed image that is surprisingly impressive.
The digital source is mostly clean, but a thin sheen of noise is visible periodically. Clarity is exceptional, and while the actual cinematography and production design are quite simple, the level of detail in objects and faces is fantastic. Colors are nicely saturated without coming across as unnatural, but skintones can veer toward a faintly yellow or rosy hue in some shots. The movie favors a bright, slightly overexposed look with hot whites and high contrast levels. While this can lead to a slightly harsh look, it also gives the image great pop and depth. Black levels are deep, inky, and consistent with solid shadow detail.
While the movie's visual style is very modest, the transfer offers gorgeous clarity with great dimension. With the exception of some very minor noise, this is an outstanding and unexpectedly strong video presentation.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are also included. This is a conversation heavy film, and thankfully speech comes through wonderfully. With that said, there really isn't much else to get excited about.
Dialogue is clean and full-bodied throughout. There is some solid separation across the front soundstage with the music soundtrack and a few directional effects (kids running around the screen screaming, being a standout). Surrounds are pretty quiet, however, but there is some minimal ambiance (a creaking subway, traffic, restaurant chatter) and faint music bleeds. Dynamic range is solid with no notable distortion. Bass activity is negligible, but there is some minor kick in the movie's song selection.
'Friends with Kids' is never terribly immersive, and while the soundfield is rather limited, the subject matter doesn't really call for much. Dialogue is prioritized well and though a bit more sonic activity could have livened things up, in this case, less might actually be more.
Lionsgate has put together a nice collection of supplements including a commentary and deleted scenes. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and no subtitle options.
Jennifer Westfeldt's 'Friends with Kids,' is a surprisingly affecting and insightful romantic dramedy. Certain aspects of the premise are a little uninspired, but the filmmakers and cast do a great job of fostering a sincere (though not totally original) voice. The video transfer is quite impressive, and though not very lively, the solid audio mix suits the dialogue driven material well. The included supplements offer a decent behind-the-scenes look at the film. While big fans of Woody Allen and Rob Reiner classics should probably temper their expectations, this is a strong romantic comedy all the same. Recommended.