Fed up with changes wrought in the lives of their longtime pals who’ve become parents, two single BFFs share a sprig of their own while swearing to avoid the expectations of a married relationship in multihyphenate Jennifer Westfeldt’s Gotham-set romantic comedy “Friends With Kids.” Unfolding in a glib, familiar sitcom universe (think “Seinfeld” crossed with “Friends” sans ethnic flavor but with plenty of Judd Apatow-style crass patter about sex and body parts), and boasting a high-profile cast of smallscreen thesps, this formulaic indie might be hyped into modest theatrical business before finding its niche in home-viewing formats.
Now in their late 30s, time-share parents Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) conveniently live in the same Manhattan high-rise. With a friendship stretching back to their college days, they know everything there is to know about each other’s dating history and preferences, and agree that they are definitely not each other’s type. Their jealousy-free, alternate-evenings baby-care arrangement allows them to hit the sack with someone who lights their fire.
Although Jason meets his physical ideal in sexy dancer Maryjane (Megan Fox) while Julie pairs off with sensitive he-man Kurt (Edward Burns), genre conventions dictate they really are meant for each other, no matter how forced this feels. Yet before this conventional happy ending comes to pass, they must both gain a mature understanding of the nature of love and family.
Unfortunately for the pic’s romance quotient, Jason’s epiphany drags far behind Julie’s. Westfeldt’s script misses an opportunity when it fails to let this crucial point dawn on Jason when he gives voice to what he values most about the mother of his child during the film’s comic and dramatic high point, a New Year’s getaway to Vermont with their friends and significant others.
As in “Ira and Abby” and “Kissing Jessica Stein,” Westfeldt’s earlier outings as scribe-producer, the sturdy supporting players get some of the best lines and bits of business. Here that means the eponymous friends, in particular down-to-earth Brooklynites Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd). And as the friends whose once highly sexual marriage becomes a fatality of parenthood, Missy (Kristen Wiig, whose “Bridesmaids” included many of the thesps here) and Ben (Jon Hamm, Westfeldt’s longtime partner) feature in some choice moments. One instance that’s beautifully evocative of what it means to be a parent includes the multiple emotions that cross Missy’s face when she hears Kurt decline her husband’s invitation to ski because he wants to wait for Julie to give her a hand with the kids.
Although the comic riffs about parenting and alternative families easily rep the pic’s sharpest dialogue and strike a chord with more mature audiences, they coexist uneasily with Westfeldt’s inclusion of a cruder brand of humor. It’s as if someone reminded her that parents with kids don’t go out to the movies, so she had better throw in something to titillate the teen boy demographic, and if that means that Jason behaves like an immature lout, so be it. (Of course, casting fanboy wet dream Megan Fox helps in this regard.)
For her tyro outing as helmer, Westfeldt opts for a sitcom-safe visual style and sense of timing. Craft package is serviceable if unremarkable.