Best friends Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) think they have it all figured out when it comes to having it all. Having seen the toll that the introduction of childbearing has taken on the relationships of their hip and ecstatically happy married friends, they turn cerebral about the most primal of instincts and decide that romance and children do not mix. They then take the next logical step for two intelligent, attractive people who want children, but not the sullen resentments and total lack of sleep that having them with a spouse brings. They will conceive a child together, the old-fashioned way, and then split the child-rearing duties, leaving them to pursue the romantic part of their lives separately, and most importantly with a good nights sleep. Julie and Jason are about to find out that Mother Nature is a cunning gal, and not one that is so easily outfoxed.
After 18 years, theirs is the kind of relationship that finds her calling him in the middle of the night to play their favorite game, which involves choosing the least unpleasant of two disconcertingly awful ways to die. That she is in bed with a snoring date is no deterrent, as it is also no deterrent for him to answer the phone because he, too, is in bed with a snoozing date. It also is no deterrent to him asking her to come upstairs from her apartment to his to hang out for a while. Neither has found their person as they term it, and after a particularly brutal evening of watching the two married couples with kids (Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd John Hamm, Kristin Wiig) who are their circle of friends snark, bark, and snipe at each other, they turn philosophical, hatch the plan, and then follow through to the consternation of those married friends who eagerly anticipate the schadenfreude they will be experiencing when the whole plan goes to hell. And thereby hangs the tale.
Co-parenting is and isnt as simple as they thought it would be, though it certainly seems less messy than what their friends went through and, the which makes them jealous despite themselves. Inevitably, attractive people (Edward Burns, Megan Fox) enter their lives and seem to be their respective ideals and, with their arrival, the unexpected flaws in the plan begin to grow, though the story of Julie and Jason never devolves into clichés or the crutch of heroes and villains. Nor do the stories of the others in their circle, particularly with Missy and Ben (Wiig and Hamm), the wildly oversexed couple whose lives, sexual and other, hit the skids when they have a child. Wiig gives a superb performance that runs the gamut from bubbly to grim without missing a beat. As she sits stone-faced through Bens diatribe at a group dinner, resentful and angry, the one tear that falls silently before she gives way to embarrassed sobbing is a study in the kind of subtle acting that delivers enormous impact while telling volumes about this couple without saying a word. It is nothing less than another big breakthrough for her as an actress that continues the promise of what she did in BRIDESMAIDS.
Writer/director Westfeldt has a gift for clever, quick-paced dialogue that is also true to characters who are constantly re-evaluating their assumptions. She also has a gift for revealing the complexities of relationships, how hate and love can co-exist in the day-to-day living with someone who is less than perfect. This is a smart, finely observed comedy of emotions that isnt afraid to get serious when necessary, once again, to remain true to the characters. She also insightfully explores intimacy in its many forms, platonic and otherwise, the comfort level that lets Julie and Jason be completely honest with each other as a matter of course. From the conception, done the old-fashioned way with the distinctly non-prurient but oddly personal banter that preceded it, to Julies fretting over her post-partum body. In one of the best moments, Julie has just taken a shower wants an honest opinion about when sh will be ready to let someone see her naked again. She opens her towel to Jason, who matter-of-factly tells her, after which she closes her towel with a nod of thanks. This kind of honesty and trust is the stuff of true and rock-solid intimacy, but neither has quite figured that out yet.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS sorts through all sorts of emotions as the characters grow, or dont, as people when they become parents. Westfeldt tells what should be an all too familiar tale with a subversively refreshing take on what constitutes love and romance. Never superficial, never pat, it is instead infused with the warmth of faith that becoming a grown-up is not necessarily the end of having adventures.