Jennifer Westfeldt calls it her “accidental trilogy.” The actress, writer and now director has made three relationship comedies — “Kissing Jessica Stein”, “Ira & Abby” and now “Friends With Kids” — films which “embrace: the romantic comedy format and “subvert” it at the same time.
Can’t find a man in the crowded Manhattan dating scene? Try dating a woman (“Kissing Jessica Stein”). Fall in love at first sight? Sure, but wait for the affairs, parental complications and everything else that seems just as impulsive that follow (“Ira & Abby”), which suggests that there are other states of togetherness and happiness than marriage.
Of an age when everybody your age is having children, but you’re not done dating, figuring out who to be with and why? Try to have a child with a friend (“Friends With Kids”).
“All these movies are saying ‘Why do we have to do it the way everybody else does?’ In all three films, the main characters are all trying to do that, find a new way.”
That’s what “Friends With Kids,” which Westfeldt wrote, stars in and directed, reaches for, “a way to beat the system, ‘selfish singles,’ the people who think we can have it all” without the romantic implications in the word “family.” It’s a “nervous, high strung” (New York Magazine) film winning great reviews filled with praise for how “sophisticated” and “perceptive” it is. Because even though Westfeldt and her longtime companion Jon Hamm (a co-star in the movie) have no children, they’ve made a movie that picks up on the shifting priorities and changing face of love in a relationship as children enter the picture.
“Jon and I have been feeling that ever-increasing sense of being out of sync with our peer group,” Westfeldt says. “So many people in our lives — dear friends — are making this epic, profound life transition, just in the past four or five years. It’s been interesting to observe how they all handle it, because they’re all approaching it differently…I have friends who have chosen to do it alone, with a sperm donor, friends who have decided to have a baby together without a romantic relationship. My managers, best friends, sat me down a few months after we wrapped the film and told me they were having a child together. They live near each other and they’re going to work it out. Life imitating art. They had their baby just this past week.
“We’re showing that shift in people, that you can’t really know what it’s like until it happens to you.”
Westfeldt rounded up a support system of friends — co-star Adam Scott and Jon Hamm are old pals, and the film also stars Hamm’s “Bridesmaids” co-stars Kristen Wiig, Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph. That gives “Friends With Kids” a chance to make a bigger splash than Westfeldt’s earlier films, “even if it has more of the serious stuff — sad moments — in between the laughs.”
Westfeldt tried to avoid the normal sitcom situations and one-liners in an effort to give her film that subversive quality she so enjoys. Thus, nobody in the movie utters that sitcom cliche to her character, “So when are YOU going to have a baby?” But since since her co-managers took the film’s message to heart, might Westfeldt succumb and join all her “Friends With Kids”? She has a TV series she’s writing and will star in. Could maternity fit in with those plans?
“Jon and I have been steeped in this subject matter for a pretty long time,” she says with a laugh. “We are pretty happy the way we are, and we have a lot of great kids in our lives. We love being the honorary aunt and uncle, but if we’re lucky, we’ll tackle that challenge when the time comes.”