Baby diarrhea. That’s the splattered subject matter of the most offputting bid for laughs in this plodding paean to procreation. It’s also a pretty good description of the movie itself, which is an irritatingly unamusing mess.
Director/writer Jennifer Westfeldt stars as Julie, a fortyish-going-on-14 single whose biological clock is just about out of time. She has been best friends since college with Jason (Adam Scott), a shallow and snarky womanizer. Believing they can have a baby together without any bothersome romantic entanglements that will keep them from dating other people, these smugly self-satisfied Manhattan yuppies have awkward just-friends sex. Nine months later, their shared-custody experiment begins.
It’s excruciatingly obvious that the two will end up realizing they’ve been perfect for each other all along by the final fade-out. This means everything that comes between their clumsy coitus and the closing credits has to be pretty special to keep this warmed-over infantile formula interesting.
No such luck. The screenplay uses the comedy of yelling to show how parenthood has turned two of their formerly hipster friends into loud, kiddie-wrangling slobs (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd). Adding some downer dramedy to the mix, another couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other during their childless days (Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm) become bitterly sexless antagonists after their bundle of joy arrives.
The movie’s main problem is that the two leads are incredibly miscast. Westfeldt looks brittle, blank and Botoxed as the boringly charmless Julie. Although the character is written as a perkily optimistic romantic, Westfeldt makes her seem as if she’s one missed medication away from going la-la-la loony all the way to the asylum.
Scott looks more suited for nasty cad and devious backstabber parts than his role here as an immature but supposedly endearing Casanova. In fairness, the part may have been impossible for anyone to pull off. Jason is supposed to be such a clueless example of arrested development that he not only remains unaware of Julie’s obvious feelings for him, but casually insults her in ways that any fool could tell are hurtful. At the same time, he’s supposed to be such a likable true friend that Julie would find herself falling hopelessly in love with him.
Naturally, things are complicated when each hooks up with someone else. Jason bags supermodel-hot Broadway dancer Maryjane (Megan Fox) while strollering baby Joe. A stereotypical physical-attraction distraction, she’s simultaneously well-rounded but two-dimensional. Julie lands a hunky “real grown-up man” building contractor named Kurt (Ed Burns) who seems perfect, and actually is. For the predictable plot to work, however, she can’t stay with him — but the movie doesn’t even bother to show their breakup, much less provide a rational reason for it.
The hardest thing to believe about this movie has nothing to do with the sappy story or stock characters, however. The most head-shakingly puzzling aspect of Friends With Kids is the fact that legendary director Mike Nichols executive produced this embarrassingly generic tripe. “Plastics,” indeed.
Friends With Kids is released on Friday March 9, 2012