October 25, 2014

Friends with Kids: Marvelous view of parents’ world

Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film about parenthood, Friends with Kids.

For any parent, the day we welcome children into our lives begins years of joy, surprise and hope. No matter how many families we may observe, becoming a parent ourselves differs from watching others. Suddenly, all those things that may annoy in families we see become part of what we experience every day.

Jennifer Westfeldt’s adorable Friends with Kids examines the impact of children on a collection of young adults. Not only do we laugh with these thoughtfully created characters, we see ourselves as if looking in mirrors. While each generation may create its own parental methods, this greatest of life’s adventures forever changes everyone it touches. This wonderfully human comedy dares to reveal the fear, curiosity and selfishness that ultimately define, and limit, what any parent can devote to a child.

The film begins with thoughtful wonder: How could raising a child change a marriage? And would a relationship change less if the parents would decide not to marry? We meet Jason and Julie, two best friends from college, who adore each other. They are the deepest of soul mates who live in the same apartment building in Manhattan, talk by phone at all hours of the day or night, celebrate major life events together, and share intimate details of their lives.

As their married friends start families, Jason and Julie critique the impact of children on relationships; soon, when they decide to join the parenting bandwagon, they choose not to marry each other.

Fifty years ago, this premise could have been, with slight editing for the time, a setup for a Doris Day comedy. But Friends with Kids is too clever to reveal how smart it actually is. Westfeldt, a supremely talented writer, director and performer, observes every nuance of life with a keen eye and strong creative integrity. Never do we feel that the humorous moments, of which there are many, separate from character; nor do the touching sequences, effectively placed throughout the film, undermine the sense of humanity. While the candor of the comedy is different today than Ms. Day (and the censors) would permit in 1960s, the story’s traditional sensibility gives the film permission to have fun.

As a writer, Westfeldt capitalizes on the promise of Kissing Jessica Stein a decade ago; as a performer, she is as irresistible as when she appeared on Broadway in the revival of Wonderful Town. She makes Julie a thoughtful, sincere woman who travels a lot of emotional miles. 

In Adam Scott, Westfeldt discovers the ideal foil, an actor of subtlety and humor who easily traverses the character’s range. In supporting roles, the marvelous Maya Rudolf and Kristen Wiig are, as always, magic on screen; John Hamm, of Mad Men, is touching as a man challenged by his children.

For every parent, the rewards of this chapter of life forever change how we view the world. By revealing the humorous side of parental intensity, the nourishing Friends with Kids reminds that, as parenthood may change how we fill our time, it may also alter what we value.

Film Nutritional Value

* Content: High. While Friends with Kids may make us laugh, its teachable moments are many; this wonderful comedy helps any parent look in the mirror, and smile.

* Entertainment: High. With a sure hand, Jennifer Westfeldt writes and directs a marvelous look at how children change parents, and vice versa.

* Message: High. Through the highs and lows of parenthood, what we experience changes us and our kids. But this is not a family film!

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to focus on the realities of parenthood, marriage and family is welcome, especially in such an entertaining form.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about how having them may have changed you!

Friends with Kids, Rated R for sexual content and language, 107 minutes

4 Popcorn Buckets