Kiddin' Around

Things get pretty obvious, but mostly pretty good

Jason and Julie seem to have beaten the whole can-men-and-women-really-be-friends? thing. Platonic BFFs, the pair at the center of Friends With Kids live in the same Manhattan apartment building, share the same active but ephemeral dating lives, and go out as a de facto couple with their coupled-up friends.

But when those actual couples start reproducing, Jason (played by Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation) spawns a plan to skip the whole marriage/commitment/too-tired-or-bored-for-sex thing, have a platonic-BFF-style baby with Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), and keep on living single until the right other people come along. In a line you just know will show up in the trailer — and, yep, it does — he swears to be "100 percent committed half the time."

Of course, this being a romantic comedy, you also know from the outset that it isn't going to be as easy as that.

Westfeldt, who broke out a decade ago with the indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, not only stars in Friends With Kids; she wrote and directed it and co-produced with her longtime non-platonic BFF Jon Hamm. And she does many things right. Her script zips along with all manner of zingers and gimlet insights: Jason disses a first date because she "over-French-pronounces French words," which is both a) funny and b) revealing about Jason's callowness.

The central focus remains on Jason and Julie's struggles to come to grips with their relationship as friends and parents, even as "other people" (Megan Fox and Edward Burns) enter the picture. But Friends With Kids also offers some clear-eyed intrigue derived from the effects of their friends' stress — the kind of stress that comes from being married with children — and from Jason and Julie's attempt to ultimately not wind up like them.

Westfeldt's biggest coup is her wonderful cast. Invaluable comedy utility player Scott holds down the leading-man spot in admirable fashion. Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd (both from Bridesmaids) make an actual relationship out of typical best-friend roles, filling out the lines with great unspoken business (e.g., after peeing, he unthinkingly wipes his hands on her sweater). If nothing else, Hamm — the onscreen partner of Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig — proves he does a great glassy-eyed just-had-sex-in-a-restaurant-bathroom face.

And yet Friends With Kids can't escape its formulaic essence, despite several valiant attempts at it. The ending, for example, is both entirely predictable and a strange, maladroit misfire. Most unfortunate of all: Westfeldt the actress is the weakest link in her own project. She just doesn't stand up to the crack romantic-comedy pros she's surrounded herself with. Really close, but no cigar.

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