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With: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns, Lee Bryant
Written by: Jennifer Westfeldt
Directed by: Jennifer Westfeldt
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 107
Date: 09/09/2011

Friends with Kids (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Child Bunch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 2001 actress Jennifer Westfeldt co-wrote a screenplay for herself, a romantic comedy about a neurotic character living in New York City. The result, Kissing Jessica Stein, was a treat. Now Westfeldt seems ready to move into the Woody Allen territory she has flirted with. On the new Friends with Kids, she is the sole screenwriter, the star, and also the director.

Friends with Kids is a mix of neurotic comedy, silly supporting characters, New York backdrops, warm drama, and modern romance. Unfortunately, there's really only one Woody Allen, and though Westfeldt isn't unappealing, she hasn't really marked any new territory.

She plays Julie Keller, whose best friend Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) lives on another floor in the same building. Jason is a whiz at picking up women but can't hang onto a relationship. Julie calls him in the middle of the night with test questions, such as "would you rather get eaten by a shark or a crocodile." Even though Jason's latest conquest is lying right next to him, he takes the call and answers the question.

Life is good, until Julie and Jason's married friends start having kids. The friends are played by such talented, funny people as Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, and Chris O'Dowd, though none of them really gets to shine. Their entire job in the movie is to be anxious and argue with one another.

Julie and Jason, therefore, decide to have a child together, as friends, but without getting married. Their arrangement seems to work like a dream. Jason even meets "the girl of his dreams" (Megan Fox), and Julie meets the handsome Kurt (Ed Burns). Inevitably, though, Julie falls for Jason and then he just has to realize that he loves her too.

As far as romantic comedies go, in which the entire plot is designed to keep two people apart until the climax, this one handles its job fairly well. There's a lot going on to keep them occupied; it's not like they're stuck in an elevator or something.

But at the same time, Friends with Kids doesn't really understand kids very well. The kids are nothing more than props, and the parents are at the mercy of the kids' terrible (or cute) behavior. It also doesn't understand the friends. This entire world is about Julie and Jason. And even then, their neurosis and emotional entanglements seem a bit too... written.

Allen's scripts are also very writerly, but Allen makes up for it with his warm, stylized direction and his superb handling of actors, both in large and small parts. Westfeldt can't quite settle on a feel or tone for her movie, other than that usual scrubbed "romantic comedy" look. And, as with most neurotics, the movie is focused around one person. This worked well in Kissing Jessica Stein, but the story here is quite a bit more complex and requires the input of others.

However, Westfeldt is genuinely appealing, and her connection with Scott seems genuine as well. There's a small nugget of goodness at the middle of this movie. It just needed a stronger hand to smooth the outer edges.

Lionsgate released a new Blu-ray edition packed with extras, but with rather clunky menus. It's not exactly the kind of thing that will show off your audio/visual system, except maybe for when Megan Fox shows up onscreen. Westfeldt provides a commentary track, accompanied by actor Jon Hamm and cinematographer William Rexer. The disc also includes a making-of featurette (8 minutes), deleted scenes (8 minutes), bloopers (12 minutes), outtakes of Megan Fox and Adam Scott playing video games (she's good, he's not), and an "anatomy of a gag." There are also several painfully bad trailers at startup.

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