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Depressingly familiar

Friends with Kids (15)
Review rating **
Actress Jennifer Westfeldt makes her directorial debut with this agonisingly unfunny romantic-comedy. Despite employing a stellar cast, including Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Brit-Com stalwart Chris O’Dowd, Friends With Kids is unable to raise more than the occasional chuckle.
Chief among its problems is an unwavering belief that the shock value of discussing vaginas is a shortcut to comedy gold. US rom-coms of late are obsessed by the idea that frank ‘vagina chat’ can act as some sort of magic talisman; an irrefutable guarantor of progressive comedy. It’s a catastrophic delusion; Kids With Friends brandishes its liberal credentials to little effect, its underlying message remaining steadfastly conservative.
The plot essentially concerns the ability of non-married couples to raise children successfully. Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt, affluent and longstanding friends from Manhattan, decide to conceive a child platonically after witnessing the detrimental effect child-bearing has had on their married friends. After a few years in which they live largely separate lives, however, the two friends find themselves inescapably drawn to one another.
The story therefore toys with the idea that non-conventional relationships can produce contented children, but ultimately reverts to the highly orthodox view that a married couple provide the only source of family happiness. In a modern world, where children live in households of one parent, or two adoptive parents, or two parents of the same sex, this sort of narrative strikes me as uncomfortably retrograde, and a poor reflection of the way familial relationships actually work in the present day.
The film does have one redeeming feature; a single scene set in a log cabin in Vermont, focusing on Jon Hamm. Having imbibed an unhealthy amount of scotch, Hamm launches into a lengthy, but eloquent, speech on the trials of child-care. The need for stable parental figures, the importance of consistency, and the potential selfishness of the childbearing impulse, are all raised, with the whole speech also acting as a veiled criticism of Hamm’s partner in the film (the long-suffering ‘Missy’). It’s a wonderfully raw, jagged scene - one that no number of Hollywood zingers can soften – and it nearly, but not quite, rescues the movie.
Ultimately, however, Friends With Kids is a studio rom-com of a depressingly familiar type. The characters exist in an economic and emotional universe utterly removed from most people’s daily lives, with the result that their so-called ‘problems’ appear irritating and superficial. There are brief flashes of sincerity, especially in Jon Hamm’s scenes, but otherwise this film is a boorish and self-involved mess.

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