No matter where you fall on the reproductive continuum — married, unmarried, childless, or with child — you’ll likely find something to relate to in the egg-meets-sperm romantic comedy Friends with Kids. Relatability, however, does not necessarily spell comic gold in this meh effort from Jon Hamm’s lady friend Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein). Paced with the rat-a-tat comic rim shots of Friends and other peppy sitcom efforts that bear little resemblance to the cadences of human life as we know it, Friends with Kids presents a similarly idealized vision of Manhattan where a flock of attractive, successful thirtysomething yuppettes gather in an upscale restaurant to lament the travesty of parents and toddlers dining at a neighboring table. Naturally, one of the couples, Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd), take the opportunity to announce that they are with child, the first in their group of thick-as-thieves buddies to reproduce.
Flash forward to four years later, and the lines have been drawn. On one side of the divide are the breeders. Leslie and Alex are now incubating baby No. 2, and Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) appear to be nursing a growing hatred for each other after the birth of their first child. Leslie and Alex’s apartment is pea-soup thick with tension, exhaustion, and mile-high resentment, and the previously buoyant and sex-crazy Missy and Ben have become schlepps tethered to earth by a baby carrier. On the other side of that divide are childless holdouts Julie (writer, director, and star Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott).
Apparently motivated by these gruesome examples of parental hell, Julie and best pal Jason decide they will have a child together, free of the romantic feelings that appear to have doomed their friends. This rather dopey premise is Westfeldt’s wobbly effort to add a new twist to the usual rom-com setup. The ins and outs of two best friends making a baby together are propped up with ho-hum filler, like a goofy birth scene so shocking in its conventionality it makes Rob Reiner look like Bernardo Bertolucci. Visual punch lines aplenty follow, with a flab-less Julie desperately jogging to lose her “baby weight” and Jason dealing with a case of explosive baby diarrhea.
Strangely, after all the attempts at “laffs” in the film’s first half, the second half, when things get “serious,” turns out to reveal a far more interesting, deeper read on the nature of friendship than all the tomfoolery that has come before. A scene where all of the friends take a Vermont ski vacation together is especially strong for showing all of the jealousies, one-upmanship, and frustrations that can simmer beneath even the best friendships.
Don’t let the A-list cast fool you: The comic heavy-lifting in Friends with Kids unfortunately falls on the shoulders of Westfeldt and Scott, who have the pretty looks but bland energy of such vanilla comic teams as Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. While Scott is the smart-aleck ladies man reluctant to settle down, Westfeldt has the pointy features and self-effacing neurosis reminiscent of Lisa Kudrow with the mousy delivery of Dianne Wiest, and she hogs all the limelight and comic lines for herself. Rather than finding her own groove, she appears to be unduly influenced by the Judd Apatow-effect and a strain of frat-boy humor. Crude jokes about post-pregnancy vaginas and penis size sound more derivative than inspired, and nothing quite carries the bounce and naughtiness of Apatow or the femme-inspiration of Bridesmaids.
More than the trite set-up, Friends with Kids‘ biggest travesty is a criminal waste of professional funny people like Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. The idea of casting Wiig as such a human dishrag with not a single great quip borders on perverse. Much of the film is a strangely self-hating vision of women as the whiners and complainers and men as the ones with agency and a sense of fun. Wiig and Rudolph play dour, mopey harpies perpetually furious at their husbands with none of the anarchic wit and chutzpah that made them so refreshing in Bridesmaids. Despite the presence of a large number of that film’s cast members, this is not the thespian clown summit of Bridesmaids II.