Unlike some, who apparently took great offense to the unconventional romantic comedy, Friends With Kids, I quite enjoyed it. Aside from the final four or five lines, I thought it was an original and honest look at the state of affairs regarding American marriages and families today.
The thing is, raising a child (let alone, children) is hard. Physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally draining. Under the best of circumstances, it is seriously challenging. Parents with small children are sleep-deprived, stressed out, anxious, nervous, broke, hungry and exhausted. And all with good reason. Yet, if you ask a single one of them how they feel about the experience of being a parent, they will look you straight in the eyes and say it is the best thing they’ve ever done. And they mean it. In all honestly, I understand why. It’s almost universally true in life that the harder something is, the more rewarding it feels to succeed at it. And parenthood is full of successes, big and small. Daily successes like the impromptu hug from your toddler, the macaroni necklace made by their tiny hands, the B in math for which they worked tirelessly. And much bigger ones like your child’s acceptance into college, his/her hard-earned promotion at work, or the blissful satisfaction of seeing him/her function independently in life, a healthy, happy adult.
But let’s not kid ourselves about some of the uglier realities of parenthood. It’s a 20 year-long endeavor during which you must, at every turn, put your own needs and desires second (or third or fourth) to your child’s. All of your time and money and energy is consumed by them and what they need and want and what you want for them. It is, in fact, hard. And there are as many approaches to it as there are parents in the world. Which is why it’s so easy, after becoming parents, for two people to drift apart. To grow resentful, angry, bitter towards one another. To feel unappreciated, unloved, undervalued and overwhelmed. To take out all those emotions on the only other adult in the room. To realize, suddenly, that this person you married is not, in fact, the best friend you’ll ever have, but someone who doesn’t care enough about your happiness to pick up his own dirty socks. Or take the kids to the park on Sunday morning so you could sleep in. Or forgo an hour of sleep Sunday morning to sneak in a little nookie before the kids wake up. You stop helping each other, appreciating each other, hell, you stop seeing each other at all as anything other than one more person relying on you to take care of them. And before you know it, you can’t stand each other.
Does this happen to every couple? Of course not. Does it (or some variation of it) happen a lot? Yes. We all know at least one couple with a similar story. And with the divorce rate hovering somewhere around 50% (that’s 1 out of 2 marriages, people), I’m betting we all know more than one couple who can relate to what I’ve just described.
Friends With Kids is the story of two people who recognize this pattern and come up with an alternative approach to parenting in an effort to beat the system. Two best friends who’d prefer to skip the failed marriage and jump straight into joint custody, thereby eliminating the most painful and unpleasant steps in the process. Written and directed by the female lead, Jennifer Westfeldt, FWK takes a close look at all of the realities of not just parenting, but what it can do to marriages, friendships and every other relationship in a person’s life. Westfeldt plays Julie, a thirty-something singleton in Manhattan who wants a baby but has not yet met “her person,” someone with whom she’d like to spend the rest of her life. Her very best friend, Jason (Adam Scott), would also like to be a parent but seems incapable of a relationship that lasts longer than a week or two. After seeing their best friends’ marriages struggle (and in one case, fall apart completely) after having children, they decide they’re better off having a baby together and skipping the whole marriage-and-divorce thing. Win-win.
The problem doesn’t arrive until several months after their baby is born, when Julie falls in love with her baby daddy. And why wouldn’t she? He actually is her best friend- he’s kind, supportive, honest, helpful, willing and able to share half (literally, fully, half) of the parenting responsibilities and so obviously has deep, sincere respect and appreciation for her not just as the mother of his child, but as a human being. All of which is showcased in the most touching, heartfelt and beautiful speech given by Jason in Julie’s defense when a friend calls them irresponsible for their choice to procreate together. The hitch: he’s just not attracted to her.
The friends of these two are played by none other than Maya Rudolph & Chris O’Dowd and Kristen Wiig & Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s real life, long-time boyfriend). Both sets of couples begin the film married and childfree but soon have a baby or two and their marriages are never the same again. Which is pretty much how it is in real life, for better or worse. My initial reaction to that first scene showing the effects of child-rearing on them was that it must have been a gross exaggeration. Then I started thinking about some of my friends and family members and their marriages and how they changed after the little ones came along. And in all honesty, I don’t think it was all that exaggerated. A bit, for humor’s sake, but not much. In fact, it was the super supportive, understanding, completely equal interactions between Jason and Julie that sometimes felt unrealistic.
I enjoyed all but the last two or three minutes of the movie, all but that final scene when Adam Scott gives the worst “I love you” speech ever written. Which felt extra disappointing because of the beautifully moving speech he’d already given about Julie. Otherwise, it’s an enjoyable and interesting flick with a great cast and several laughs. And the message I took away from it was neither anti-children nor anti-marriage (nor pro-either of those) but that if you want either (or both) of them, be prepared to work your ass off. With someone you genuinely like.