'Friends,' Kids And Beating The System

Mar 8, 2012

The new comedy Friends With Kids explores how babies change the relationships of everyone around them. It's written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt — who may be best-known for the 2001 indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, about a single straight girl in New York who test-drives a romance with another woman — and features much of the cast that made Bridesmaids a breakout hit last summer.

In Friends With Kids, Westfeldt plays Julie, another single New Yorker, now approaching 40 and planning a baby with her platonic best friend, Jason (Adam Scott).

"Essentially, we are the last childless singles in our friend group," Westfeldt tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "We've always wanted children, but we haven't found that person. And we're a little freaked out, honestly, by the strain and stress, and the toll that kids can take on the romantic part of your relationship, at least temporarily."

The genesis for the movie came from Westfeldt's own observations about parenthood and how its challenges affected her friends' identities and relationships.

"Over the past five or six years in particular," Westfeldt says, "I've watched a lot of my friends make that profound and enormous transition to parenting. And when you're out of sync with your peer group — as I have been, since I don't have children — you definitely do experience ... a mourning, in a way, of what your friendship was before. Because you do lose your friends for a bit, and they don't have the time for you, and you miss them."

Westfeldt was interested in writing a story that dealt with the duality of parenthood her friends described.

"Most of the people in my life, most of my girlfriends in particular, they all ... say a similar thing, which is, 'This is the most incredible, rewarding, inexplicable love that I've ever experienced, and at the same time, it's the hardest thing I've ever done.' "

Westfeldt's earlier two movies — Kissing Jessica Stein and 2007's Ira and Abby — also explore the challenges and transitions associated with different stages of adulthood.

"I sort of wrote them as milestone birthdays were approaching," Westfeldt says."I wrote Jessica Stein in my late 20s ... [with] that notion of 30 coming, and finding the mate and being in a certain place by then. And with Ira and Abby it was sort of in response to so many people in my life getting married, and I wrote it as 35 was approaching."

Westfeldt, who is unmarried but has been with her partner, the actor Jon Hamm, for 15 years, doesn't see Friends With Kids as a movie about ways of living she has decided against.

"I think that we feel as married as any other married couple," Westfeldt says. "We have a house and a dog and a will, and it doesn't feel pressing to us to sort of make that legal or get a contract. ... For us, it just isn't something we really think about. We may do it someday, but it's not so important to us. What's important is sort of what we choose every day, and that feels the same as every other committed relationship."

To a degree, all three of Westfeldt's films deal with relationships, but in each there's also a sense of searching for identity — or at least a way of living.

"I think that the thread that I've been grappling with in all three movies is, 'Why do we have to do it the same way everyone else does?' " she says. "Why can't we change the rules and beat the system and have it all and redefine the terms?"

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