What If Your Friends with Kids Met Your Sister’s Sister?

That’s what happened to me, anyway, this weekend.

Without realizing what I was doing, I rented two films that both feature the idea of two people who don’t love each other having sex that results (or might result) in a child, out of convenience. They also both feature best friends of the opposite sex. Interesting coincidence. And here are my brief reviews.

Friends with Kids

Friends with Kids (Jennifer Westfeldt, 2011)

Though this film’s imdb.com page lists its release date as 2011, it wasn’t actually released in the U.S. until March of 2012, and it has found its way onto at least one film critic’s top 10 list for this year. It has also garnered some less than stellar reviews, however, so the praise is not universal.

Jennifer Westfeldt, the writer/director and main actress of the movie, has two previous features under her belt as a writer: Kissing Jessica Stein (which I have seen, and thought was . . . OK) and Ira & Abby (which I have not). Friends with Kids is her debut as both writer and director, however, and she acquits herself nicely. She has a lovely way with the actors (one of whom, Jon Hamm, is her real-life partner), eliciting heartfelt, funny and poignant performances from all. If the movie has one significant flaw, it is that we know how it will end within the first 20 minutes or so, once the main dramatic conflict is set in motion. What follows, below, is a basic plot summary.

Julie and Jason have been platonic best friends since college. They do everything together – except sleep with each other. Neither seems capable of commitment with other partners, however. Now both in the second half of their 30’s, they decide to have a kid together after their other (coupled) friends start having children, rather than wait until they find “the one.” They figure, get the kid out of the way, start raising him/her with someone they genuinely like (without romantic complications), and then continue searching for Mr. and Ms. Romantic Right. Well, you can probably figure out how this plan goes wrong.

What works in the film is the writing of the interactions between Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) – both likeable performers – and the development of their relationship and that of their friends, played by Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd (Edward Burns and Megan Fox round out the cast). The dialogue is funny and sometimes sharp, and some minor plot details are unexpected, even if the main story arc is not.

So – best film of the year? No. A decent fairly well written by a capable director, filled with good actors? Yes. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton, 2011)

I think the poster says it all. It looks like a mediocre SitCom, no? The film is actually better than its advertising would suggest, but it’s not great, and the ending feels as forced as the awkward poses on the poster. There is some decent writing, direction, and acting, however, and if you like Emily Blunt as much as I do, then this film just might be worth watching.

Your Sister’s Sister comes out of the mumblecore indie film movement, which for me is a distinct minus. I do not generally enjoy the navel-gazing fixation of so many of this movement’s directors. Too often we are asked to share in the plaintive wailings of whiny people who just aren’t that interesting. Some people like this. I generally do not.

Still, Shelton does a fine job photographing the Washington state locations, and the beauty of the cinematography goes a long way towards lending the film some sense of importance. so, too, do the fine performances from both Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, as her sister. Mark Duplass doesn’t ruin it for me, but he does not succeed in making me understand why Emily Blunt’s character would find him interesting.

Duplass plays Jack, a man still grieving over the death of his brother one year prior. This brother had once dated Iris (Blunt), who has been Jack’s best friend since college (just like in Friends with Kids . . .). Iris decides to pack Jack off to her father’s house on an island somewhere in Puget Sound so he can clear his head with some alone time. Only problem is, once he gets to that house, Iris’s half-sister Hannah (DeWitt) is already in the house, also looking for some alone time. Jack and Hannah get drunk, stuff happens, Iris then arrives the next day, and the rest of the film sees the three of them wrestling with the (earth-shattering!) consequences of that one drunken night.

If intimate dramas like this, sprinkled with comedy – a dramedy – are your thing, that you might really enjoy the film. If you like movies where a lot of things happen, then you’ll probably hate it.

But after watching this, I would definitely give Shelton another look. She’s good with the performers, and knows what to do with the camera, mumblecore roots notwithstanding. A mixed bag, for sure, but not terrible, either.

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