I always found it fascinating when a filmmaker like Woody Allen or Warren Beatty can be the writer, the director, the producer and the star of a film. I can’t even imagine the amount of work that goes into performing all those duties in a film, and to perform them well. So well, in fact, that they usually would be nominated for Academy Awards in all four areas. Nowadays, Woody usually stays behind the camera. There are still people who attempt this: Sylvester Stallone does it on occasion, as does Tyler Perry. But neither of these two can even come close to the quality of Allen and Beatty.
Enter Jennifer Wetfeldt. Who’s that you ask? Well, for the most part, she’s an unknown. She has mostly done television work. Over ten years ago, she wrote and starred in an independent film called Kissing Jessica Stein, the story of a woman involved in a romantic relationship with her female friend. It was a critical success. She returns to the big screen with Friends With Kids, which she wrote, produced directed and stars in.
Friends With Kids plays out as an ensemble piece, very similar to 1983’s The Big Chill. The film opens with three couples: Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig), a couple with the tendency to have sex wherever the urge may occur; Alex and Leslie (Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph), a fairly laid-back couple; and Jason and Julie (Adam Scott and Westfeldt), a platonic couple who live in the same apartment building and are best friends. You find out that the two married couples are about to kids, and both couldn't be happier.
Flash forward four years: Alex and Leslie are throwing a birthday party for Jason. The married couples have changed since having kids. Alex has become lazy and Leslie constantly complains. Ben and Missy’s sex life has become non-existent and both have started drinking heavily. Jason and Julie are still just friends, but they both want to have a kid; at the same time they see what having kids has done to their friend’s relationships. So, they decide to have a child, but remain single so they can meet other people.
As strange as it sounds, it works. Jason and Julie raise their son without the issues that are dragging down the other couples. This is until Jason meets Mary Jane, a dancer (Megan Fox), who he confides to Julie is ‘the one.’ It's at that point she realizes that she's fallen in love with Jason. She continues with the arrangement and meets someone of her own, Kurt (Ed Burns) a divorcee with a couple kids of his own. Things seem to be working ok with the pair except the arrangements of who gets the kid when they sleep at the others place.
Everything comes to a boil when the four couples gather for a New Year’s skiing trip. Alex and Leslie’s marriage has become stressed, but Ben and Missy are now drinking heavily and don’t even communicate. Mary Jane makes an announcement that she doesn’t even want kids and Kurt questions Jason and Julie’s reasoning for having a child. By the time dinner is over, some relationships survive, some don’t. But it makes Jason and Julie re-evaluate what's best for them and their child.
Like I said earlier, Friends With Kids has the feel of The Big Chill, a 1983 drama where a group of friends converge together for a weekend when one of their group commits suicide. While the movie has some great comic element, it deals with some dramatic ideals, such as life, death, success and failure. Friends With Kids has that same feel. The film is quite funny, but once the dinner scene is over, everyone’s life will change in some way, and some not necessarily for the better. The script by Jennifer Westfeldt is both funny and intelligent. If her style reminds me of someone, it has to be Nora Ephron. Her writing is very funny, but in the serious moments, she has the ability to throw in a funny line without losing any dramatic tension.
The film has a terrific cast. Scott and Westfeldt give great performances. They have excellent chemistry together. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd provide most of the comic relief for the film. Rudolph’s constant nagging is a hoot and O’Dowd continues to impress. His performances in this and Bridesmaids makes me really want to watch for him in other stuff. Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm deliver performances that fall more on a serious vein. Both are very good, but Hamm gets an excellent moment at the dinner table that really impressed me beyond what he has done on TV’s Mad Men. If anything, I wish they would have used more of Rudolph, O’Dowd, Hamm and Wiig. They have little screen time. I would have liked to have seen more of their relationships.
Westfeldt’s direction moves the story along briskly. Production values are good. The cinematography of New York City and the boroughs look great. You really get a feel that you’re watching a Woody Allen film at times. The score by Marcelo Zarvos and songs from The 88 add to that New York feel.
Overall, Friends with Kids is entertaining. The film’s feel is very New York-centric, in regards to relationships and romance. The ensemble cast delivers consistently great performances. It’s good to see fresh faces both in front and behind the camera and I do hope Jennifer Westfeldt continues to do what she's doing. She is definitely someone to watch for in the future.
Friends With Kids is presented with a 1080p, MPEG-4 video codec, and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film's transfer is not spectacular, but for the type of film it is, it’s good. The film has a warm color palette. Black levels are very good with no deterioration in imaging within the shadows. Contrast is turned up just a bit on some of the well-lit interior scenes. Skin tones are very natural. Textures and details are very good, most notably with facial close-ups. Like I said, it’s a good transfer, not great.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio transfer, as in most romantic comedies, are predominately front channel presentations. There are some directional effects that play through the left and right front speakers, which are good. Dialogue from the front channel is very clear. The rear channels are used primarily for soundtrack score. Once in a while, you do hear some ambient noise, such as restaurant clatter, but that's about it. No panning effects at all. LFE remains pretty quiet for the entire presentation.
Friends With Kids has a great set of extras. When you get such a good group of comic actors, even the ‘Making of’ featurette is humorous. You get more depth from some of the characters in the deleted scenes. I knew that Maya Rudolph was funny, but she is hysterical, especially when she ad-libs. Kristin Wiig’s performance comes across as being more on the serious level. And the audio commentary with Westfeldt, Hamm and DP Rexer is active and fun. Good stuff here. There's also a DTS Sound Check, which is really nice to have.
Friends With Kids is a good film that deals with the problems in relationships and how having children affects that relationship. It has a great cast lead by Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Adam Scott and first time director, producer, writer and star Jennifer Wendfeldt. It is an impressive debut. The film’s transfer to Blu-ray is good, but not spectacular. I would recommend this title, especially if you’re trying to score points with the ladies.