March 18, 2012

Friends With Kids

Adam Scott seizes the opportunity in his first major leading dramatic role. The ensemble shines through, but the plot decomposes into a rote "When Harry Got Sally Pregnant" rewrite. The sloppy production values and Jennifer Westfeldt's distracting face (more on this later) made it hard to keep focused...literally. Any movie about struggling with love, parenting, and marriage for upper-middle-class 40-somethings is going to resonate with me, but I found it hard to continue to root for parents making such bad choices.
SPOILERS AHEAD
Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) are best friends with their two best married couples (Jon Hamm & Kristen Wiig; Chris O'Dowd & Maya Rudolph, all from Bridesmaids). The six of them are tightly knit, but Jason and Julie never settle down: it's shown to us from the very first scene that they care for each other more than any stranger could compete with. They don't acknowledge it to themselves, but they compare their first dates against their best friend every time.
This makes the conclusion of the film inevitable, so it's writer-director Westfeldt's job to make the trip to happily-ever-after worth watching. And it is mostly worth watching, and in most romantic comedies which explore this dynamic, it can be a lot of fun. In this case, I became increasingly allied with their child, and increasingly critical of their poor life choices. Maybe being the dad to a two-year-old has made me a killjoy or a big marshmallow, but let's face it: their clever "split custody" arrangement is worse than having your parents divorce: your parents appear to love each other, but they refuse to live together. Only later will this poor kid realize that the only thing standing in the way of a functioning family unit is the self-delusion and selfish gratification of the parents.
Speaking of selfishness, Jason finds true love with MJ (Megan Fox, age 25) whom many find to be the hottest woman on Earth. This makes 38-year-old Scott look like a horndog, especially when MJ has no other redeeming qualities. I found this especially galling when Julie (age 41) finds love with Edward Burns (age 43), admittedly a very tall and handsome man, but he's also kind to his kids and a decent man. Jason comes off much worse, especially when Julie has her revelation and expresses her true love for Jason a whole year before Jason comes to his senses and reciprocates.
Jennifer's Face: Lee Ann and I both found Jennifer Westfeldt's face distracting. The color was too uniform throughout the movie. Every scene her skin was the same color all the time. Even in scenes where no one would be wearing makeup, she looked freshly airbrushed. Lee Ann suspects Botox is to blame; I noticed the skin color more than immobility.
Production Values: I am certain this movie was made on a strict budget, but there were two shots completely out of focus, which is rare; and one scene set at sunrise in Central Park where the lighting looked totally fake. I also noticed several dialog scenes where the different camera angles were badly cut together: a characters hands mismatched, expressions not matching, and dialog from one shot used over-the-shoulder of another shot, so the lips didn't match. My grade: C-plus.
Not technically a SXSW screening. I saw this with Karen & Lee Ann at the Violet Crown Theater in Austin the day after SXSW ended.