views from the gods

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Friends With Kids (15)
Cineworld, Shaftesbury Avenue
7th June 2012


I had high hopes going into Friends with Kids - the cast and writer/director suggested that it would have potential. And it did, in the same way a baby has potential to be Gandhi, or in this case a murderer, cannibal or Noel Fielding.

Perhaps I was predisposed not to like it, being a rom-com, and having as I do the fatal genetic mistake of a Y chromosome. But I don't think that stands because while one half was mawkish sentimentality and cliché-ridden claptrap, Jennifer Westfeldt obviously thought there needed to be something for the lads. Her response was to add a little gross-out humour and copious amounts of swearing. Unfortunately, it wasn't swearing in the poetic Armando Iannucci mould, crafted, refined, brilliant. No, it was just a lot of people saying "shit".

And they may be on to something.

The plot, such as it is, sees best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt herself) decide to have a baby in their totally platonic relationship after seeing how it has systematically destroyed their friends' lives. In a perverse game of one-upmanship or idiotic short-sightedness, they decide they can do it better.

At first, their plan - and the film - succeeds by keeping their friendship platonic. It seems at times director/writer Westfeldt was trying for something genuinely subversive and rather cynical similar to her last (really rather good) effort Kissing Jessica Stein. Whether it was studio interference, market-test disapproval or her personal choice, the result betrays its tone by, non-spoiler alert, having the pair fall in love.

This is insulting on many levels, the first being it runs entirely contrary to the theme of the film. The second is that men and women can have deep platonic relationships, or so I've been told by those less emotionally crippled as I. Thirdly, it undermines any message or artistic credibility the film could have had.

Not only that, but as their 'love story' progresses, fake barriers are put up to prevent the couple getting together until the bafflingly abrupt ending.

These involve personality void Megan Fox (whose character at one point is referred to as "awesome", making it apparent that in this film stupidity is catching, leading me to worry whether I could be infected simply watching the damn thing). To be honest, if you can't predict the plot at this stage you shouldn't be allowed out of the house unaccompanied, never mind sitting in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers.

Not only is the storyline poor, but some of the best mainstream comic actors of the moment are squandered or ignored. Two of their friends, their character names lost to sheer boredom, are played by Mad Men's John Hamm and Kristen Wiig. Hamm at least gets two decent scenes, probably by virtue of him dating Westfeldt. But Wiig, who has proved her strong comic chops most recently in Bridesmaids, gets a handful of lines then has to burst into tears and sit around looking moody, before she is written out altogether.

The least loathsome characters are the third couple, played by comedian Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd. They are also the most well-rounded and deep, but that's a little like being the tallest dwarf or most talented Miliband brother. They're the everycouple, sweet and devoted but not above bickering. The IT Crowd's O'Dowd does a fine job as comic relief, but then they too are unceremoniously jettisoned.

There are some redeeming features that justify the two stars. It is competently, if not magically, shot. The soundtrack doesn't grate or feature Sixpence None The Richer, Ronan Keating or other aural travesties. And despite myself, I genuinely laughed out loud twice. At what, I can't remember, but I certainly did. Adam Scott, excellent in the underrated TV series Party Down did his best with the material, but the material was poor.

While this isn't a bad film, it could have been so much more. It defies itself constantly and is nothing if not frustrating and mediocre. In a way, it's a When Harry Met Sally for Generation X-ers without the stellar performances of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. And with the best will in the world, Westfeldt is no Rob Reiner.

Friends With Kids was released in the UK on 29th June 2012.

Nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo)

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