TORONTO - One of the more anticipated potential acquisition titles at the Toronto International Film Festival this year is Jennifer Westfeldt's directorial debut, "Friends with Kids." And, it's not hard to figure out why. Especially when you've recruited an ensemble cast that includes Jon Hamm (also a producer), Megan Fox, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Adam Scott. Happily for distributors and moviegoers, "Friends" delivers the goods and should spark a bidding war before heading to a theater near you.
The adult dramedy, likely R-rated at the moment, centers on a group of thirtysomething friends who are navigating raising young kids in New York City. One couple (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) are comically bickering while dealing with their rambunctious toddler, new parents (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig) have gone from being sex crazed newlyweds to seemingly on the verge of divorce, but Adam Scott and Westfeldt's characters? Well, as unattached best friends they're just watching in amazement as the friends they thought they knew turn into "crazy people." And yet, the more the two discuss how you could have kids without the stress on a marriage (divorced partners seem to be the best potential husbands or wives because they have already gone through the rough years), it slowly becomes apparent that maybe they should try and have a kid themselves, but without all that silly romance and marriage to get in the way. You can see where the storyline is going a mile away (as can their friends), someone is going to get hurt and the pair are either going to admit (or realize) their true feelings for each other or not. Thankfully, Westfeldt's incredibly witty and astute script as well as some great performances make the ride incredibly entertaining.
The big revelation in the film is Scott. The 38-year-old actor has shown his comedic chops with supporting roles in films such as "Step Brothers," "Knocked Up" and on the small screen in "Parks and Recreation" and "Party Down," but this is absolutely his cinematic coming out party. He steals scenes from Hamm, Wiig and Rudolph (no easy task) and brings a sincere dramatic spin to the film's climatic scenes (although the latter is not so surprising if you know some of his television work).
Rudolph is the film's other great comic gem. Her role isn't a huge stretch, but she and O'Dowd have real chemistry and she lands some of the biggest laughs in the movie. Hamm is mostly saved for a key dramatic sparring match with Scott and delivers it, as expected, deftly. Wiig maximizes her limited screen time by only reminding the viewer how great it is to see her reunited with her "Bridesmaids" co-star(s) on screen. As one of Scott's major girlfriends Megan Fox is enjoying the show around her effectively playing the "straight girl" and Ed Burns is bizarrely relaxed and charming (who knew?) as a potential husband for Westfeldt's character.
The one disappointing performance, sadly, is Westfeldt. It's hard to imagine a Tony Award nominated actress not living up to a role she's written for herself, but Westfeldt just doesn't seem to fit in with the other actors on the big screen. On the other hand, her deft hand as a director and previous success as a screenwriter and producer with "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Ira & Abby" suggests she might find more notoriety behind the camera.
"Friends with Kids" is perfectly timed to cash in on the R-rated adult comedy craze and could easily turn into a very solid hit for whichever distributor wins an expected bidding war for it (it's absolutely funnier than any of the comedies that sold at Toronto last year or Sundance this past January). So, if your interest is piqued, don't worry. "Kids" will likely be arriving in a theater near you sometime in early to mid-2012.
For year round entertainment commentary follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.
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