dir: Jennifer Westfeldt
Hey. Those of you who don’t have kids and who have friends with kids: I know that those of us with them can be pretty annoying, but you don’t have to try to punish us by making films about it. Honestly, most of us aren’t that horrible. Some of us are, but not most, I hope.
Some friends who have kids, sure, are worse than fifty Hitlers, and are completely self-obsessed and self-focussed, and are constantly telling you how little they’re sleeping and how hard they’re doing it, and what saints they goddamn are for doing something no-one forced them to do and that billions of other people seemed to have managed without turning it into such a goddamn saga, but that’s not the fault of the kids.
Let’s be honest, they were probably annoying fuckers to begin with. As a wise man once said: Look into your hearts. You know it to be true.
This flick might have arisen from the simple observation of some people, being Jennifer Westfeldt, that some of her friends became arseholes when they became parents. Maybe it wasn’t a general observation, maybe it was a specific one, maybe Jennifer and her husband’s friends did all turn into horrible, sniping, perpetually angry arseholes. Maybe they’re exaggerating a little bit to justify making a movie about it. Perhaps some viewers will see some similarities between these gorgons and zombies onscreen and their own friends; perhaps it will resonate with millions of angry, dejected people who mourn the loss of their friendships with Friends who now have Kids.
At the very least I would hope that a fair number of viewers would see this flick, if they bother to, and think, “Goddamn, your friends, Jennifer, totally suck, because my friends, on the other hand, seem to do okay as parents, didn’t transform like werewolves once their kids dropped out of their fecund wombs, don’t pressure me/us horribly on a daily basis to breed as well, and still retain some of the qualities I enjoyed about them before they became ‘dreaded’ parents.”
I hope that holds true for some people, because if this flick is any accurate portrayal of what everyone everywhere is like (it isn’t), then we parents have a lot to answer for, possibly at the Hague in front of a war crimes tribunal.
People certainly can become a bit boring once they become parents, but that hardly justifies a whole romantic comedy about it. Romantic comedies, like the death penalty, should only be used in the most extreme and untenable of circumstances. Anything less than that, and you risk throwing the whole moral structure of human civilisation out of whack.
Julie (Westfeldt, who also writes, directs, produces and possibly also self-administers the Botox so obviously in her lovely, immobile mask of a face) and Jason (Adam Scott), have been long time platonic friends since college, and are both at that stage of their late 30s where they start lamenting what their married and breeding friends have turned into. Previously, their friends Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) used to be fun. They used to be cool. They used to drink, get fucked up, and be the lives of the party.
Now they’re so deeply mired in the misery that marriage and children apparently bring that all they do whenever they all hang out on the increasingly rare occasion together is be utter pricks to each other, complain about their partners, complain about the sex they’re not getting, complain that they don’t have enough time for anything outside of child-rearing, that they’re always tired, and really, it’s their sadness as well as their self-important pomposity that disgust Julie and Alex the most.
These being two urban, Manhattanite sophisticates, they somehow strike upon what they think is a brilliant strategy: despite if not because of the fact that they’ve never been sexually or romantically involved with each other, it makes perfect sense that they have a child together and split the care of the child perfectly evenly. That way they can have a child, which is the biological imperative, because Gods forbid, what would happen if these two repugnant characters didn’t spawn? The world axis itself would shift, I guess.
When they do this, and really seem to make a good go of it (in the movie’s single greatest implausibility) their friends, the two married couples referred to previously, deeply resent it. They see this bullshit as being a direct slur upon them: that the choices of these two people in structuring their arrangement so, are deliberately commenting on how shitty their friend’s marriages and lives are.
Not to make this flick seem any more well thought out or intelligent than it actually is (it isn’t), but that bit isn’t that implausible. In fact, it’s one of the only things about the flick that feels utterly right. People do get shitty when you do something differently from how they do it, whether it’s intended or not, whether you’re actually critiquing them or not, and this especially manifests in looking after kids. Again, not to get too much into it, but there’s definite resonance in the idea that you could say the most innocuous thing about what you do for your kid, like “We’ve decided to not bash our kid’s fingers and toes with a hammer just for laughs”, and other treasured, adored friend-parents will rise up in a towering rage and bellow at you, “Are you implying that we’re neglecting our kids because we’re not bashing their fingers enough?”
You can’t win (clearly fabricated) arguments like that. All you can do is back away, smiling politely.
Of course the example is ridiculous, but you can do something as innocuous as say that you don’t give your kid juice as a drink, and other parents will look at you like you just told them they’re trying to give their kids diabetes deliberately.
It’s insane, and it happens, so if the flick captures something ‘real’, it’s aspects of that. Of course, nothing else that happens is that well done or thought out, but we’re not supposed to care. We’re supposed to just be grateful that we’re getting to watch these awesome people act so unconvincingly.
For a flick that looks like it was being filmed in between scenes of Bridesmaids, on the cheap, with long boring patches where nothing funny, engaging or entertaining occurs, it does at least build to something that seemed like it was going to be genuine. As in, genuine drama, or genuine statements about people and life and such.
Of course, the flick is nowhere near enough good enough to do that consistently or intelligently (after all, I did drop those awful words already, being ‘romantic comedy’). Still, Jon Hamm, who is Jennifer Westfeldt’s husband in real life, and yet still looks like he’s here under sufferance, gets to have one great drunken, belligerent scene where he openly insults Alex and Julie for their hopelessly naïve selfishness in bringing a kid into the world in such a hip and causal manner.
Then the flick has to get all manipulative and contrived (I mean, even more contrived), and shows who the real villain is: Julie, the main character, when everything falls apart just because Jon Hamm said it would, and because she’s a selfish cow who chooses to deprive a father access to his son just because he rejects her shiny-faced advances. For shame.
I don’t really have anything good to say about anything or anyone in the flick, except maybe Adam Scott, who’s okay as the co-lead. Everyone else is wasted, all these talented people with their talents going to waste. Giving Chris O’Dowd that stupid accent: that’s the final insult.
The director also makes the cardinal mistake of making this a romantic flick where the audience can’t see any good reason why the two leads should get together in the first or last place, or any reason why they should care whether they ultimately do or not.
It rolls along for most of its length depending on the idea that two rational people unburdened by the strictures of marriage or physical attraction can make a better go of it than their miserable married friends, which is a pretty smug set up, to be sure, but then they see the folly of their ways when it all fucks up (which is fine), but then the flick decides that the solution is romantic love that is actually going to make everything all right in the end. Ah, yes, conformity is the solution to all of life’s petty problems.
Almost everyone loses when they try to make romantic comedies more ‘real’. Romance isn’t, by its nature, ‘real’. I admire all the people involved for trying at least, points for trying, people, points for trying. There’s some meaningful stuff amidst the morass, but not enough. With a stronger script, or with some actual humour, this could have been something special. You get the feeling that they’re trying to do something different, and that they wanted to make something meaningful.
Instead, I was relieved when it was over, and that’s not something to admire, though it does mean something.
5 times Jon Hamm better hope he doesn’t get typecast as a handsome, drunken man who’s always yelling at people even outside of Mad Men out of 10
“It’s like she’s one of my limbs” – there’s surgery for that – Friends With Kids