Friends With Kids

Friends with Kids

Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut, Friends with Kids, is a lighthearted romantic comedy with an indie sensibility striving to be something just a bit more but, inevitably, falling to all of the third act clichés that plague most romantic comedies.  A film basically about the way our relationships change when kids enter the picture, the film is charming if a little guileless and confused in thematic content.  The film follows a group of friends, all in different stages in their relationships and how they morph and change once they have kids.

The core of the film follows two best friends, played by Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott, who decide to have a kid together without all of the mess associated with it like a relationship or marriage.  The rest of the ensemble is filled out with alumni from Bridesmaids – Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, and Jon Hamm – a group of friends who end up having kids and, in effect, provide the best case for how having kids effects and strains romantic relationships.  Westfeldt and Scott’s characters’ platonic relationship works out pretty well until each strike out on their own romantic relationships with Edward Burns and Megan Fox, respectively.

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Away We Go

away_we_goThis is just a pleasant movie.

Sam Mendes’ Away We Go is a smart, funny romantic comedy that doesn’t shy from tough situations and never forces its characters into situations that wouldn’t be believable.  It’s a film very much mired in indie sensibilities from its very precious style of framing and detailed set design to the indie rock soundtrack, but the wonderful script and strong, central performances elevate the movie above all that and really make this movie worth watching.

With a screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the film follows a young couple (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) expecting their first child.  Finding themselves suddenly untethered and free to raise their baby wherever they see fit, they travel the country to find the perfect place to raise their family.

It’s a sweet movie that deals with very personal, intimate issues about relationships and families in a very organic and humorous way.   It deals with the very real problems that come with being new parents as Krasinski and Rudolph travel meeting different friends and family members with children trying to find what kind of parents that they themselves are going to be.  If anything, it’s the overly quirky and far drawn out caricatures of some of the characters they visit that drag the movie down and make the movie almost too broad in its comic sensibilities.

The worst offender being the scenes with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton as an ultra-New Agey couple who are so beyond the pale with their rejection of the stroller and the “family bed” that it stretches the limits of credulity.  Not that these types of parents probably don’t exist out there, but for a movie that feels so steeped in such a real character relationship at its core, when the movie goes out there to these edges it becomes very distracting.  Allison Janney and Jim Gafigan also play a couple that at moments almost seem to stretch that line of credulity but not as much as the New Age couple.  There are moments and lines that seem almost too quirky for their own good but a lot of great comedy is mined here from the inattentive parenting of Janney and Gafigan, a shining moment being as Janney converses with Rudolph and Krasinski in the foreground, her daughter in the background randomly is talking to a couple of middle aged guys in an incredibly sketchy jeep.  A lot of the humor works best when it straddles that line of feeling real while pushing at the boundary of realism.

But at the core of the film are the central performances John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.  They deliver sweet, wonderful performances and have great chemistry together.  Without these two working as well as they do here, the film would’ve collapsed on itself.  Rudolph especially impresses here playing a character with a deep sadness to her as she comes to terms with her parents’ death and what bringing this child in the world will mean.  Krasinski is an able partner keeping up with her being both emotionally engaging and a comic foil.  As two characters unsure about the kind of parents they can be, the performances never hit a false note.  Their confusion and attempts to understand everything around them is communicated perfectly and is really the central piece of this movie.

The other central aspect of this film that really makes this movie is the wonderful script from Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida.  If you never believe the journey that these characters take, it would be hard to find anything to latch onto here and it’s right there in the page what a great couple they are.  I greatly admired the restraint in the script to keep away from the cliché of the forced obstacle for the couple or trying to force phony circumstances where the couple must separate or be at odds and reunite stronger than ever in the end.  This isn’t that type of movie.  There are of course disagreements and little bothersome things, but there are never any forced conflicts being pushed onto these characters.  It’s the relationship between these two characters that is drawn out so well that makes the movie work.  They are not so much as two separate characters at odds as so many other romantic comedies do but rather one unit, together against everyone else in the world.

For Mendes, this is certainly the anti-Revolutionary Road.  As opposed to that film which thrusted you out of the theater jaded to the world and miserable, Away We Go simply glides you out with nothing but good feelings and a positive outlook on life.  It’s a complete 180 from the emotional devastation of Revolutionary Road, providing a perfect example of a sweet, stable relationship where the two characters perfectly complement each other.  There are no great conflicts in this film but whereas with most films that would be a huge flaw, here it perfectly works and the greater conflict comes from their struggle in finding a proper home for their baby.

Anchored by an amazing core relationship and a script that rarely diverges from their core journey, Away We Go is a sweet film about the totality of family and the strength of that.  Basically, a film version of the old saying, “home is where the heart is.”  There is a bit of a schmaltzy air at points that almost becomes overbearing but there’s always a good line that comes out to ease the film out of that thankfully.  Aside from a few moments where the film’s comedy becomes far too broad, the film, in general, stays anchored to a real core emotional truth.  The best thing Mendes does here is to let the camera stand back as an observer rather than leaning on his old stylistic tricks.  It’s a simple, sweet movie and that’s what I liked about it.

And on a final note, just want to say that I’ll be out of the country for about a month or so, so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to update this whole thing or not.  If I do, it’ll probably be little short things and not as long and drawn out as they usually are.  That’s probably not a bad thing.  I’ll still be watching movies and I’ll try to update when I can.