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Arts and Culture

'Friends with Kids'

What spawned this uterus worshipping film? Sex, Republican style?

By Dorothy Woodend 23 Mar 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about film every other weekend for The Tyee. Find her previous articles here.

Where to begin? There is so much wrong with the film Friends with Kids that it's actually hard to choose just one thing. Everything about the enterprise is like someone slapping a pair of cymbals on either side of your head. It literally reverberates with wrongness, like giant wavy sound lines coming off the screen that twist and writhe.

If I could have got up and walked out, I would have and I don't think I've ever walked out of film. I sat through Howard the Duck in its entirety.

Let's start with the most obvious thing. Any film written by and starring the same person, with a cameo role from that writer/producer/director's more famous husband is a big old red flag upon which is emblazoned "Vanity, thy name is..." Jennifer Westfeldt, apparently.

Ms. Westfeldt wrote, directed and produced the film, and probably tried to breastfeed the damn thing at the same time.

One woman show

Other than the film's nonexistent editing, terrible writing and feeble plot, an appalling waste of talent is its most egregious crime. The director enlists the star power of an ensemble cast including Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O'Dowd, all familiar from Bridesmaids. If the intent of the marketing campaign was to lure in the unwary with promises of another Bridesmaids, this is actually the smartest thing the entire film does, simply because it works. But once the punters are in the theatre, the bait and switch begins. Each of the actors featured, who are famous for being funny, are forced to play against type. Thus the formidable Ms. Wiig is robbed of anything lively and forced to play a weepy dishrag. The delicious Mr. Hamm is not the roué of Mad Men, but blandness in a two-day stubble. Even the charmingly schlubby O'Dowd is forced to divest himself of his Irish brogue and enunciate his lines, like he has someone's fist in his mouth, slowly strangling on an accent that lurches drunkenly from Hoboken to the Jersey Shore.

I could go on, but I won't. My point is that the film takes actors who are charming and funny and strips away the things that make audiences love them. You have to ask yourself why? The answer is staring you in the face. She never leaves the screen actually. Friends with Children, despite its ensemble poster artwork and marketing campaign, is a one-woman show designed to show off the milquetoast at the centre of things, one Jennifer Westfeldt. Westfeldt plays Julie, a thirty-something New Yorker who lives in the same rent controlled building as her best friend Jason (anime character turned human actor Adam Scott). Separated by a few floors, and a lifetime of being just pals, these BFFs are, of course, meant for each other, they just don't know it yet. At 4 a.m., they phone each other and play cutsey games of how would you like to die? By the end of the film, you the audience member, who should have got up and walked out 45 minutes earlier, will be wishing all manner of death and destruction on these two, death by alligator and then shark and then back to alligator again. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Julie and Jason and their circle of friends live the quintessential New York movie lives of fabulous rent-controlled apartments, jobs that they never actually go to and endless bouts of badly-written repartee. Everything is simply groovy until married couples Leslie and Alex (Rudolph and O'Dowd), and Ben and Missy (Wiig and Hamm), reproduce and all holy hell breaks loose. Apparently people with children are all assholes and selfish pricks. Children being forces of destruction and diarrhea, in equal measure, turn even the most civilized people into tired, fat, grumpy humans who never have sex.

No yuks, just yukky

Despite the depressing and ugly reality that their friends are immersed in, J&J decide that they too will reproduce their fatuous selves, without the mess and muss of love and marriage. Since they're such great friends, they decide they can beat the system by having a kid together and raise that child without the detriment of parental romantic entanglement. They will beat the system! A bit of awkward humping and nine months later an adorable baby boy named Joe emerges. Here is where the endless rounds of "How huge is my vagina?” jokes begin and simply never end. But any thin smear of outré language is just that, a carefully studied edge meant to detract from the fact that not only are Jason and Julie as boring as hell, the film itself doesn't have anything for them to do. Scenes drag on interminably or are piled on top of each other with no reason other than to add more length to the film's 100 minute running time.

As they raise their cute kid together as "just friends," Jason and Julie are free to wreak havoc on the dating world. Soon enough they each find themselves, two good-looking specimens with which to fornicate and take Vermont skiing vacations with. Let's skip to the end, If you didn't already know exactly what was about happen, let me save you some trouble. Jason and Julie eventually figure out that they've loved each other the entire time, and the film ends with the most romantic line ever uttered in the history of cinema. "Fuck the shit out of me,” says Julie to Jason, and cue the tail credits.

Take that Nick and Nora Charles.

Sexual health as culture war

What to make of such an exercise in terrible filmmaking? Sure, it's a vanity project from an actress and her famous husband's famous friends. It will disappear soon enough from the theatre and head into the land of sad old Netflix. But the film has the odd timing of emerging at a time of great cultural consternation over pregnancy, women's rights, contraception and the like. It's a good old-fashioned culture war that's coming to a head down south, and if you'd like to put some more double entendres in that sentence, be my guest.

With the GOP apparently squaring off with the women of America over the rights of sexual health, namely the right not to get pregnant and not to have children if you don't want to, it is curious to examine the politics of a film like Friends with Kids. Pregnancy porn has been going full steam ahead for quite some time now. One needs only take a little prance through the magazine racks at the grocery store to know that women have only one idea in their pretty little heads: get pregnant! Stay pregnant. Buy more shit. Well, actually that's two ideas, I guess, but you know women can't do math.

There are two set pieces in the film, which are really little more than opportunities for the film to act as a mouthpiece for the ideas of the filmmaker. In one, Ed Burns who plays Julie's too perfect lug of a boyfriend poses the question about whether Jason and Julie have given due thought to the responsibility of raising a child without the benefit of marriage, to which they sputter some explanations. Simpering Julie doesn't actually say anything, it's Jason who does all the talking about how friendly commitment and love and trust are much better than empty sexual calories. In another more telling scene, Julie finally makes a confession of her love to Jason saying that there is no one else, not friends, not her mother, only Jason and Joe, her two boys that make up her family. This scene made me feel a surge of bile. Here is another woman reduced to being a walking, talking uterus, her only real and true calling to be wife and mother. Nothing else matters...

The Republican politicians calling for women to be subject to the same biological processes as cows and pigs would no doubt be proud of such a sentiment. In the end, the only reality in the film is heterosexual marriage and children. It's time again for Kinder, Küche, Kirche, little lady! Step right this way, your ovaries will lead the way.

[Tags: Film, Gender and Sexuality.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Gender + Sexuality, Film

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