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Feature


Long-time best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) live happy, post-30s lifestyles in the same Manhattan apartment building. The only thing missing from their lives is the pitter-patter of little feet. Following a chaotic birthday party for their friend Jason (Chris O’Dowd), attended by other friends with kids Ben (Jon Hamm), Mary (Kristen Wiig) and Jason’s wife Leslie (Maya Rudolph), Jason and Julie decide that marriage ruins the child-raising experience, and vice versa. This leads them to a new plan – have a child together and split the responsibilities 50/50 without compromising their platonic relationship – much to the chagrin of their friends and family. At first their plan works, but matters are complicated when their child is born and they reenter the dating pool.

Friends with Kids
Friends with Kids appears to be the brand of romantic comedy that never extends itself beyond simple comfort food, but when the responsible parties are taken into account the prospect of something more than an average money-maker immerges. This comfort food is brought to us by Kissing Jessica Stein writer/lead actress Jennifer Westfeldt, who brings along a motley crew of her best friends to assist in making her feature directorial debut, including Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott, Mad Men star (and Westfeldt’s long time significant other) John Hamm, Saturday Night Live stars Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd and one-time it-boy Edward Burns. The cast is truly stellar by most measurements of greatness, but the biggest shock of the whole film is that even Megan freakin’ Fox is on her game. She’s genuinely funny and even, gasp, natural. Take that, Michael Bay. Friends with Kids has gotten special mention in the mainstream media for the fact that Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph, and O’Dowd all also appeared in last year’s surprise hit comedy Bridesmaids.

The film’s inherent problem is that the audience knows with near certainty where this particular story is going. Overused pregnancy story tropes aside, the platonic friends turned romantic friends subgenre has gone nuclear over the last few years and comes with its own series of rapidly aging clichés. There’s a sizable thicket of disconnect between me and these characters as well, based on the fact that I have almost nothing in common with them, but this is where the stellar cast and Westfeldt’s supersonic dialogue patterns come in handy. The film’s speedy, no-fat-left-intact editing approach helps too. Not every discussion and/or sequence is exactly necessary, but the pace is more breathless than some of the better action films I’ve seen. This speed at first feels like a montage approach, cutting from the inception of the concept, through the inception and birth of the baby in almost 30 minutes flat (the entire film covers a period of something like six years). Westfeldt cuts through most of the pregger movie clichés and takes time to develop her characters beyond their basic defining attributes (the ones I don’t relate to) within the constraints of her more original plot elements. The expected lull comes around the center of the film when the platonic relationship gets all complicated and, in turn, predictable. The pace doesn’t lag, but the story certainly turns listless and it appears Westfeldt is going through the motions in an effort to fill some obvious narrative quotas.

Friends with Kids
The R-rating is refreshingly earned through frankness, rather than gross-outs and goofy nudity. The film’s one sex scene plays out the awkward nature of platonic friends trying to do the deed through mostly dialogue, not gyrating flesh, and ends up somewhere genuinely touching. Not that there’s anything wrong with gross-outs or gyrating flesh, it’s just nice to have a little break every once and a while. There’s also a rather arresting dark period toward the top of the third act, specifically a dinner scene that will make even the most well-prepared audience squirm. Westfeldt crushes her audience’s stride, all while sneaking the most hackneyed third act turns through a sudden rush of negative emotion. She finds a valid excuse to justify an overused formula and it’s kind of mind-blowing. Again, a lot of this rests on the shoulders of the capable cast, some of who show off their less practiced attributes, especially Kristin Wiig, who is simply heartbreaking without so much as a word. From here the formula turns a bit stale again, and Westfeldt wants her moral to work both ways, but she doesn’t entirely cop out when dealing with the inevitable romantic finality of the story.

Friends with Kids

Video


Shot mostly on Arri Alexa digital HD cameras, Friends with Kids looks great in 1080p. Westfeldt and cinematographer William Rexer aim for the impossibly popular warm and ambered look, sucking the warmer hues out of the mix and resituating them as soft, candied highlights. The look is overplayed, but it looks beautiful on Blu-ray. Occasionally, the softer focus backgrounds bleed out a bit, some of the redder flesh tones feature a touch of digital noise, and the utter lack of true whites (which are consistently yellowed) is a bit odd, but overall colour quality is rich, including clean basic blends and sharp, poppy highlights. On average the image is extremely clean outside of the aforementioned fuzzy backgrounds, which are fuzzy due to choices made with the shallow focus. Detail levels are very impressive, again, outside of the shallow focus (which still isn’t a problem because most of the fuzzy edges are solid), including incredibly crisp foreground textures and complex wide shots. The big establishing shots of various New York hot spots are especially vibrant and intricate without any noticeable compression artefacts. Towards the beginning of the film I caught a handful of shots with messy, grayish shadows, but in general the black levels are rich and sharply (obviously purposefully) crushed.

Audio


It’s likely that the most difficult part of any dialogue-driven romantic comedy review is finding something interesting to say about the ostensibly simple/bland sound design. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is par for the course, but sounds positively fine. The sound design is simple, leaning pretty heavily into the dialogue over everything else, but it doesn’t necessarily flatten the aural experience. The channels often feature a mist of ambient sound, especially when characters are conversing outside of their homes, and music is given a solid boost in terms of LFE and stereo/surround enhancement. The musical soundtrack, which includes numbers from composer Marcelo Zarvos, indie band The 88, and a few pop items, is a bit overwhelmed by cuteness for my taste, but never sounds ineffective.

Friends with Kids

Extras


Extras begin with a commentary track featuring writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt, actor/producer/boyfriend Jon Hamm and cinematographer William Rexer. Westfeldt rules the track for the most part, with Hamm (who is clearly happy just to be hanging out) jumping in with a supportive or sly comment when needed and Rexer mostly sitting quietly and interjecting a technical comment or two. The focus is largely slanted towards the difficulty of shooting the film in New York on a comparatively small budget (which included a lot of shot stealing), live location histories, and making sure every single person on the cast and crew is given their proper credit. Westfeldt is so consistent that one assumes she could handle the track all on her own, but the comedic and technical support is a welcome addition, considering her occasionally boring subject choices.

Making Friends with Kids (8:10, HD) is a brief EPK featuring scenes from the film and behind the scenes, and amusing interviews with Westfeldt, Hamm, Adam Scott, Chris O’Dowd, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Ed Burns and Megan Fox. The general consent seems to be that most of these actors/creative types don’t have children of their own and this film was a bit of a catharsis for them. The disc also features a pair of ad-lib/blooper reels (12:00, HD), Scene 42: Anatomy of a Gag (5:10, HD), a comparison between the script and film in multiple takes (with optional commentary), MJ Rocks at Video Games (also with optional commentary, 3:50, HD), eight deleted/extended scenes (also with optional commentary, 8:20, HD), and Lionsgate trailers.

Friends with Kids

Overall


Having originally confused the film with Lionsgate’s other pregger-comedy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I assumed I’d hate Friends with Kids, but was pleasantly surprised by its fast pace and fine performances. It’s a predictable plot, but writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt generally earns the easily anticipated movements through strong characters and unexpectedly poignant sequences. This disc looks great, features an adequate DTS-HD soundtrack, and a bevy of amusing extras.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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