Friends with Kids, Movies without Merit
As the world’s tardiest movie critic, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on a little film that came out over a year ago: Friends with Kids, starring Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed it), Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolf, Adam Scott, and Kristen Wiig.
I watched this gem last night, and to sum up my thoughts, I present to you my exchange with my husband:
Me: “Was that really bad acting, really bad writing, or really bad directing?”
I have to admit, I had high hopes for this movie. It originated from a screenplay that the Childfree Westfeldt wrote based on her real-life experience of her friends all but disappearing from her life (that she shares with fellow Childfree partner Jon Hamm) once they had kids. Sounds, no doubt, eerily familiar to many of you? But instead of touching on the subtle nuances of life as the last in your group to have babies (or the only ones to choose not to), they went only for over-the-top clichés: kindercrap blanketing the floor, watching your previously happily-married friends scream at each other about whose turn it is to feed the baby, the horrors of explosive diapers, threadbare dads getting wildly drunk at the dinner table after being criticized for not spending enough time with the kids, et cetera, et cetera.
I think the reason I’m most upset about this movie is that there was so much good material that never made it in there. What about trying to have a conversation with your first-time parent friends who can’t break eye contact with the baby for more than 5 seconds, which somehow leaves you feeling guilty for trying to switch to a non-baby topic? What about no one showing up to your birthday dinner, despite your attempt to plan it at a baby-friendly locale? What about a Girls Night Out where the moms who actually allowed their husbands to “babysit” spend most of the night on their phone, checking baby defecation stats? What about friends who used to post interesting and thoughtful updates on Facebook, or comment on the interesting/thoughtful updates of others, who now exclusively post photos of their baby laying next to the monthly marker sign? What about people you haven’t heard from in a year coming out of the woodwork to ask for babysitting help so they can go to a dinner you’re not even invited to?
Even as I write these things out, I know they’ll be perceived as trivial and (our favorite Childfree adjective!) selfish. Of course they only post about their baby on Facebook, it’s the most important thing in their lives right now! Of course they have to check their phone when they’re out, they’re a MOM now! Yes, yes. I know. I get it. But the point is that a million trivial little things add up to one big ball of, well, sadness for the way things used to be with your friendships. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head depressing; it’s a slow burn.
The movie isn’t much help because the two childless main characters decide to have a baby and join the malarkey. They no longer notice their friends aren’t around because now they’re not around. But what happens to the Childfree who don’t want to jump on the baby bandwagon? Maybe they form new friendships. But Childfree friends are few and far between and nothing can ever really replace the history you have with your oldest friends. Maybe they appoint themselves captains of maintaining friendships in the group and help organizing babysitting co-ops, etc., so people can still get together. But that sounds like a pretty tough job, and let’s face it, the pay is crap. Maybe they start traveling around the world or developing enough hobbies so they no longer notice that no one’s around anymore. But if you’re tight on vacation funds and aren’t really a hobby person, where does that leave you? Alone with a good book, I suppose. Or if you’re lucky, a couple of cats and a partner.
Are you thoroughly depressed yet? That’s what I was hoping for out of Friends with Kids – some kind of emotional impact that I could relate to, that got to the heart of what it’s like to be the only ones in your friend group not to have kids. It just didn’t get there. I’m being unfair though – they probably did only a cursory sweep of the Childfree woes because that wasn’t really the point of the story. It was, after all, a romance. I think I just expected more emphasis on the “before-baby” phase out of a Childfree writer, but maybe it started out that way and was drained of all its nuance by the Hollywood execs. And perhaps someone else needs to start writing the story that didn’t really get told…