You can forget about big comedies being headlined by a single name star — a Jim Carrey or an Adam Sandler — because those guys have slowly given way to ever-evolving, cross-pollinating cliques. Moviemakers are starting to realize what sketch comedy groups and improv troupes have long known: Familiarity breeds contempt.
The Judd Apatow/Freaks and Geeks collective has branched off into what could be called the Bridesmaids posse, and Friends with Kids is their first follow-up effort (sort of).
The brainchild of Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), who wrote, produced, directed, and stars in the film, summons Bridesmaids alums Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, and Jon Hamm (who happens to be Westfeldt’s long-time boyfriend) along with Apatow regular Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) for an ensemble comedy about two lifelong friends (Westfeldt and Scott) who decide to have a kid together without becoming a couple and falling into the sexless vortex that has claimed two of their friends (O’Dowd and Rudolph) or enduring the bitter acrimony that is killing two others (Wiig and Hamm). Their decision, of course, wreaks havoc on all involved.
The charm and intimacy of the cast brings vitality to some pretty threadbare territory, and the genuinely funny moments (and there are plenty) more than make up for the groan-worthy clichés that seep through the molding (can we put a moratorium on scenes where men are haplessly thwarted by the complexity of a diaper?). Scott and Westfeldt have an easy chemistry that makes their onscreen friendship feel organic and the final reel confessional, which is not a spoiler to anyone who has seen a movie ever, is completely sold by Scott even as he teeters dangerously on the brink of repeating Billy Crystal’s New Year’s Ever monologue from When Harry Met Sally verbatim. But the most hilarious lines by far are delivered by Rudolph and O’Dowd — the former’s exasperation and the latter’s laconic delivery (the guy just makes everything he says seem funny, even when it’s not a zinger) are a perfect combination.
Although Westfeldt plays against type by pairing Wiig and Hamm — so great together in Bridesmaids — in a largely dramatic role as a once-hot-for-each-other couple that have spiraled into frigidity and outright hostility, the parts don’t give either one much to do. Wiig suffers the most, as she spends most of the movie silently staring daggers and crying — not really the sort of thing you expect to see when Wiig is on screen. Hamm, at least, is given one gasp-inducing line (you’ll know it when you hear it) and an absolutely dynamite dinner table confrontation with Scott that is uncomfortably tense and beautifully played by both actors.
Oh, and, Megan Fox is dutifully okay as a really hot girl.
Friends With Kids won’t break any new ground the way Bridesmaids did, but it is a romantic comedy that has more smarts, a little more edge, and many more laughs than the three Jennifer Aniston movies you instantly thought of when you read the words “romantic comedy.” Just a piece of advice: See it with someone you feel fairly comfortable with, because each joke has the potential for a “Why did you think that was funny?” Q&A afterwards.