By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Julie and Jason are meant for each other but won't admit it, and how many times have we seen that in a movie? Too many times for writer-director Jennifer Westfeldt, who kneads the cliche into something fairly unique in Friends With Kids.
It begins with establishing just how platonic the bond is between Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott), whom we meet when they're chatting on the phone at 3 a.m. while one-night-stands sleep next to them. They are friends who never considered sharing sexual benefits until Julie stops hitting the snooze alarm on her biological clock and wants to have a baby.
All of their best friends are doing it: Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and her younger husband, Alex (Chris O'Dowd), took the plunge first and now live with short fuses in a home with Montessori furnishings. Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) were next, and their baby is the only thing keeping them married. Full nights of sleep and dinner reservations for six are things of the past.
Maybe this pregnancy thing isn't such a good idea after all. Especially when marriage is involved. Julie proposes to Jason that they skip that part, share parenting and remain free to pursue true romance somewhere else. Good luck with that.
You'll notice that Julie and Jason's friends are played by actors from Bridesmaids, but this isn't that kind of comedy. Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) isn't above dropping raunchy jokes into the mix, but Friends With Kids is smart about it, with the dirty stuff usually servicing the characters' development. It's a comedy of wry, knowing smiles more than guffaws, and emotionally crushing moments springing from nowhere.
Of course Julie and Jason will realize their deeper feelings for each other, when he begins dating a lithe dancer (Megan Fox, showing that she may, indeed, have acting talent) and she finds Mr. Perfect (Edward Burns). Westfeldt smartly keeps these distractions perfectly capable of making Julie and Jason happy; there are no easy assumptions here.
The performances are constantly spot-on, especially Scott during a wonderfully written rant during a group vacation, when Jason points out everyone's unspoken issues with children, marriage and love. After that, Westfeldt — Jon Hamm's real-life partner of 15 years — doesn't have much more to say but continues anyway, with a final reel of regrets and reassessments that could be much tighter.
What Westfeldt accomplishes with the rest of Friends With Kids most matters. This is a premise suited for sitcoms and a cast primed for improvisation, yet the movie never slips into either feel, keeping it bluntly real about sex and sticking to a briskly written script.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.