I saw this movie last night with one of my mom friends, so we had a true appreciation for the subject matter. I was excited about this movie – I love the actors (Dear Edward Burns: Thank you), the sense of humor, and the honesty about relationships that this group of people usually delivers.
And I applaud Jennifer Westfeldt for taking on this subject. It was interesting to see her and Jon Hamm, the famously wildly-in-love, not married, purposely-childless celebrity couple exploring this territory. As a “with-kids,” I don’t disparage their choice: I absolutely respect it. The pressure to marry and have kids is extreme, especially when everyone around you is doing it and you’re not.
Westfeldt also nails the New York hipster-parenting life right down to the details: how Brooklyn is simply another planet from Manhattan, square footage, high-end birthday gifts, hanging out at 10:00 in an empty family-neighborhood bar. (Plus two wilco songs. See – I’m such a hipster that I know you’re not supposed to capitalize wilco.)
Also kudos to Westfeldt for nailing the relationship types, which can be a tired cliche, but she managed to deliver so truthfully. You had the solid-but-snarky, the doomed, and the will-they-or-won’t they couples. But I really felt their pain rather than thinking “What a bunch of stererotyped idiots” (which I usually do when watching hipsters onscreen).
And she gets that the epiphanies of our lives don’t happen over romantic candlelit dinners or Vermont ski weekend getaways – they happen in the basement.
My only complaint about the movie is the treatment of the children and family life. I’m not sure whether it was done on purpose to illustrate the point, but the point was evident: this generation of parents is far too wrapped up in their own personal dramas (and status symbols) to realize there are kids in the picture.
Our parents knew what was coming when they had kids: big changes. A commitment to something, someone else, that was bigger than anything they’d ever experienced. Our parents didn’t “know” as much about parenting as we do because they didn’t have the “benefit” of brain research and 1,000 parenting blogs. But they knew much more on a deeper level.
Friends With Kids illustrates how parents today have trouble dealing with the consequences of marriage and children. I believe that one character at some point delivers a very truthful what-did-you-expect comment. But otherwise, the parents are running around like animals – and so are the kids. They are so reliant on getting drunk to deal with the hell of their lives that they become almost a parody. There’s only one person who’s actually sympathetic to the kids, and it’s the hunky boyfriend (yeah he really is dreamy, I’m talking to you Edward Burns).
And there’s the nugget that we parents often miss: our kids behave the way we do. If you want to see a mirror reflection of your own behavior, just look at your kids. Not always easy, is it?
One of the best scenes in the movie shows the unavoidable and profound difference between the “with kids” and the withouts. One of the dads is in a fancy restaurant with his trophy girlfriend, who comments that the parents with the rambunctious kids are so stupid and selfish for bringing them out. He turns to the mom, who has the “I’m so sorry but I’m doing the best I can” smile on her face, and tells her, “Your kids are adorable.” When he turns back to his girlfriend, she is at the far end of the table scowling at him.
The sad but true theme of this movie is that the bridge between friends with and without kids is really hard to cross (though not impossible). So, a ray of hope? Overall, I really enjoyed it (though after a kick-ass start it did have a long slow pace). And I should know what to expect when the title is Friends With Kids, not “What Life is Really Like when You Have Kids.” But who would go see that movie?