For decades, the movies have encouraged us to dare to be different, to step out of our comfort zones, to strive for greatness. But now we have Jennifer Westfeldt as the patron saint of safety, conformity and the dominant paradigm.
Westfeldt, you may recall, wrote and starred in the wispy “Kissing Jessica Stein,” a comedy about a young woman frustrated with the dating scene who flirts with becoming a lesbian before getting all “hmm, no thanks” about it. Now she’s putting the “threat” in “triple-threat” as the writer, director and star of “Friends With Kids,” about a young woman who decides that she can have a baby outside of the context of marriage until she changes her mind and falls in love with the BFF who impregnated her.
And unless “reticence” is high on your list of what makes filmmakers interesting, there’s not much to like about Westfeldt’s directorial debut, a shockingly unfunny comedy that wastes both a promising situation and an extraordinary ensemble cast that includes Adam Scott and a quartet of “Bridesmaids” alumni: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s real-life significant other) and Chris O’Dowd.
Young professionals Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Scott), platonic chums since college, have witnessed first-hand what parenthood has done to their coupled friends Ben and Missy (Hamm and Wiig) and Leslie and Alex (Rudolph and O’Dowd): sleep deprivation, frayed nerves, bed death and, horror of horrors, relocations to Brooklyn.
Deciding they can have an infant without it ruining their lives, Julie and Jason decide to matter-of-factly get pregnant, share the responsibilities, and eventually date other people once the little tyke is sleeping through the night. But this is a Jennifer Westfeldt joint, and anyone attempting to be non-traditional is set up to be knocked over.
Cue the arrival of the romantic rivals: Jason falls for gorgeous dancer Mary Jane (Megan Fox), who we’re supposed to hate because she doesn’t want kids, while Julie becomes smitten with contractor Kurt (Edward Burns), a nice-guy single dad who’s just too good to be true. (Or, as played by Burns, too good to be interesting.)
You can pretty much map out every move that “Friends With Kids” makes, which would be forgivable if the film generated enough laughs to distract you from the by-the-numbers plot. But even worse than Westfeldt’s acting -- she’s so pretty but blank that she’d make the ideal spokesperson for a makeup line called Tabula Rasa -- is her writing. There’s a framework for a fun comedy here, but no one says anything witty and none of the characters (with the occasional exception of O’Dowd’s laid-back Alex) emerge as anything resembling a real person with bigger problems than the kind of babies-are-a-handful stuff that Erma Bombeck once built a career out of.
Westfeldt’s co-stars deserve way better than this; Scott’s comic chops on “Party Down” and “Parks and Recreation” have been a joy to behold, and Rudolph once made me howl with laughter simply by saying “Toothpaste!” in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, but this flat material grinds them into dust. Wiig and Hamm at least mine their unhappy couple for dramatic depths, so funny isn’t really on the table for them, but even this talented duo barely registers.
The directing feels off as well, with scenes abruptly ending a second or two early and a general shroud of dour ugliness (the cinematography is by William Rexer) subverting the film’s many New York City locations.
“Friends With Kids” was a waste of time for all involved. Audiences should avoid making the same mistake.