Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) take notes as the arrival of children seems to rip the romance out of the relationships of their coupled friends, the ever-horny Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) and the humorously rock-solid Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O’Dowd). The six are lively and cultured New Yorkers enjoying their version of Sex and the City, but all of them are vaguely aware, in theory, that kids will challenge their ability to dine out in style and vacation with ease.
Julie and Jason, though, have even more reason to fear; they are the platonic couple, the best friends who know each other’s every foible, which leads them to consider the possibility of having a child, sidestepping all of the pesky entanglements that sex and love can create.
As a married critic with kids, the insider’s gaze of Friends With Kids, the new project from Westfeldt, the now triple-threat (stepping behind the camera to complement her efforts as a writer and actor) independent film phenom who gave us Kissing Jessica Stein, raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I wondered at times which of my friends had taped one of our house parties. Even though the focus is on the crazy couple that believe they can cheat the game (or remake it in their own glamorously deluded self-image), married folks will see reflections of themselves in these two because we all say we want to marry our best friend and imagine that we will remain as hip and sexy as we were back in the day.
And I felt not one ounce of shame sharing this sentiment during a phone interview with Joey McFarland, the Kentucky native (with a home in the Queen City) who, along with his Red Granite Pictures partner Riza Aziz, helped produce Friends With Kids.
“I have to tell you,” he began in response to my admission, “I’m single and I have no kids, but I’m the youngest of five and all of my siblings have children and all of my friends have run the gamut of having kids.
So when my producing partner and I were looking for something to work on together, the material really hit home to us, too.
“And hearing this from a guy really means a lot.”
Red Granite is the new kid on the production block, but they have already formed an alliance with Appian Way, Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company on The Wolf of Wall Street (with Leo starring), which will begin filming this summer. Their aim is to mix tent-pole projects with more intimate fare, while hopefully generating a slate of three movies a year. For them, the material comes first, not the scope.
“Just being in Hollywood and going through material on a day-to-day basis, we met Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt,” McFarland says. “We read the script and loved it so much, we decided to produce it while we were actually forming the company and building our executive team. And that’s what we did.”
Producing approximates the give-and-take of a condensed long-term relationship or a marriage, one with an offspring that grows up equally fast and heads out into the world to seek approval. To hear McFarland talk about Westfeldt, it is like the testimony of a proud and enamored partner.
“She is the embodiment of a passionate writer, producer, director and actress. She is a force,” he says. “The truth is, it is easy to like a script on the page, but you have to believe in the people to bring that vision to life on the screen. And when we sat down with Jennifer and Jon, these two soul mates who aren’t married but have been together for years and are best friends and put their own time and money behind this project, it was an awesome experience.”
For the intimately attuned audience members, there is a subtlety in Friends, too, displayed through its old school approach to friendship. In a society that has tipped overwhelmingly toward social networks and virtual interactivity versus face-to-face encounters, Westfeldt reminds us that friends used to be the people you went out of your way to spend time with, the people you saw and who saw you at your best and worst.
With local voices like McFarland out there in production houses like Red Granite, there seems to be hope for more organic partnerships not only between filmmakers, but also filmmakers and eager audiences everywhere. (tt stern-enzi)