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Cinema in Focus: ‘Friends with Kids’ Falls Short

Jennifer Westfeldt's film is creative and witty but lacks wisdom

1 Star — Troubling

It’s difficult to watch a film as empty of morality as is Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends with Kids.

As producer, director, writer and lead actor, Westfeldt’s movie is witty and creative, but the characters she creates are going through life without wisdom or direction, living by a moral trial-and-error process, as though thousands of years of human experience have produced no guidance on how life works. While her characters finally realize that faithful commitment to loving family relationships is the basis of the most rewarding life, they walk a circuitous and unnecessarily painful path in discovering that truth.

It could be argued that Westfeldt is simply a cynic, a product of modern culture’s deteriorating moral values, or that she is creating a morality play demonstrating the shifting sands of modern moral choices, but if so there is little from this film that transcends the shallow morality it portrays.

That is not to say that the ensemble cast is not well chosen or that their repartee is not well written, although filled with vulgarity. The crude humor is based primarily on their discussion of sexual themes, although there are some funny moments focusing on the stresses of parenting. The marketing of the film proclaiming that you cannot have love, happiness and kids in your life all at the same time is played out as a humorous theme and a creative angle around which the film revolves.

The cast of young adults who are friends includes Westfeldt as Julia Keller, her best friend Jason Fryman (Adam Scott) with whom she decides to have a baby, Ben (Jon Hamm) and his mutually sexually obsessed wife Missy (Kristen Wiig), along with the pragmatic Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and his outspoken wife Leslie (Maya Rudolph).

There are a few others brought into the friendship circle during the story. The most prominent of these is Kurt (Edward Burns) and Mary Jane (Megan Fox), along with the children who are cast as the kids of all these friends.

We won’t spoil the storyline or how the relationships of these six friends impact one another, but it is difficult to imagine how such apparently well-educated people have such shallow understandings of what makes relationships work. As a comedy, this lack of social intelligence and relational health, as well as moral values, makes watching the film humorous but also painful. It is not a film we recommend.

Discussion:

» When people choose to ignore moral values learned from human history and religious faith communities, they become adrift when there are difficulties experienced in romance, marriage and family. Where have you turned to learn how to have a fulfilling romantic, marital and family life?

» The creative and witty writing of Jennifer Westfeldt demonstrates real talent. However, she makes it clear that she is against “organized religion” by the dialogue she writes. How do you think this story would have been different if there had been a relevant and caring faith community to support these young adults in their most important and intimate relationships?

» The reality that both marriage and family are deeply fulfilling is where the film finally takes us after dismissing both. Have you found marriage and family to be fulfilling in your own life? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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