Last October, a Detroit woman named Sarah Deming filed suit against FilmDistrict for its misleading advertisements for the film Drive. Her claim was that the film's trailers had led her to believe the film was about driving rather than, you know, Ryan Gosling stomping in the orbital bones of various Angeleno miscreants. (This is a film in which Christina Hendricks is shot in the face. Suffice it to say, Drive was not messing around.) She also claimed the film was anti-semitic, but no one remembers that part; they only remember the deceitful-advertising aspect. The suit was dismissed immediately, and it has taken on a bit of "I didn't know the coffee was going to be hot!" notoriety.
(A brief aside on the infamous "suing over hot coffee" story. The woman who sued McDonald's successfully for $2.86 million when she spilled scalding coffee on herself was in fact the subject of a fascinating documentary last year called Hot Coffee, which made the quite convincing argument that the public sentiment against her case, which took great glee in mocking supposed dummies who didn't realize that coffee is hot (duh, people!), has ultimately made it hundreds times more easy for corporations to elude consumer-friendly legislation. It's more flip to make fun of the consumer than to demand the corporation adhere to public safety. I highly recommend it. I'd say you'll never mock the public safety message of "THIS COFFEE IS HOT" on the side of your Dunkin' Donuts cup again, but hey, it apparently didn't stop me.)
Anyway, I never quite understood Deming's lawsuit: Sure, the Drive trailer was bereft of Albert Brooks Fork-Related Violence, but the lack of Vin Diesel or Jay Leno should have let Deming know this wasn't going to be 100 minutes of sideview mirror adjustments, left-turn signals, and nasal detritus under the passenger seat. I think a better punitive case could be made for Friends With Kids, which opens this Friday. If you've seen the television ads, you probably think it's the gang from Bridesmaids all just hanging out again together; hey, maybe they'll go back to that Indian restaurant again. MORE POO YOU GUYS.
The advertisements emphasize the Bridesmaids pseudo-reunion, making it look like it's a rollicking comedic romp with Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph, and Chris O'Dowd all just giggling and making silly faces. Budding Demings of the world should probably be aware, though, that those four, all told, are barely in the film at all. The film centers around a pair of best friends (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote and directed the film as well) who, in their late 30s, decide to have and raise a child together even though they're not in love and fully intend on dating (and even marrying) other people. Those four, the Bridesmaids folk, they really don't have much to do other than pop in every 20 minutes or so to comment on the action, a sort of Greek chorus surrounding our two heroes. It's also worth noting that none of them is actually funny, by design. You know that scene you've seen the commercial where Wiig and Hamm sneak out of the restaurant bathroom, post coitus? That's in the first five minutes of the movie, right before a "Four Years Later" insert. Wiig spends the rest of the film crying into various glasses of wine while Hamm yells at her. It's a real laugh riot.
If you know what you're getting into, though, you might like Friends With Kids, particularly if you're one of those urbanites—we used to call them "yuppies"—in their mid-to-late-30s who are starting to realize that all their friends appear to be growing up without them. (In one telling scene, Scott continues a tradition of throwing birthday parties for himself before realizing that he's alone eating his cake while everyone else is chasing children around the room.) The film is essentially a smarter, if still somewhat clumsy, romantic comedy for grownups, with Scott and Westfeldt trying to figure out if they're in love before, during, or after they produce a child together.
As my colleague Grierson has pointed out, this is one of the first films I've seen that honestly tries to wrestle with and dramatize this generation's tendency toward more unconventional family units and the effects they have, both positive and negative. The film doesn't always work—I'm not sure it really is a romantic comedy, as much as it wants to be one—but it's earnest, good-hearted, and even a little daring, in a pampered white-person, the-best-way-to-meet-lovers-is-to-jog-through-Central-Park-type of way. If ever there were a movie made for my neighborhood in Cobble Hill, it's this one. (Though the movie has a jaundiced, outdated view of Brooklyn—at one point, our Manhattan heroes take a cab to visit their friends in Brooklyn and it costs $84, which isn't even true if you're traveling from Inwood to Bay Ridge—that seems oddly self-destructive. Who else is this movie for if not the self-satisfied bored snoops ["Did you see what she was feeding her child?"] of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights?)
Westfeldt, who first came to prominence with 2001's similarly moon-eyed and semi-serious Kissing Jessica Stein (on whose set she met a young handsome wannabe actor named Jon Hamm, back when he was known as "Jessica Westfeldt's boy toy"), is a better writer than a director, and even though she doesn't necessarily have the most expressive face, she's still a likable screen presence. But the movie belongs to Scott, who showed his light leading-man chops in Party Down and is terrific here; Scott's a much better actor than he's given credit for—a friend calls him a "walking reaction shot"—and if Friends With Kids breaks through, you can see him cleaning up on the roles that Tom Hanks is too old to play now. The film is a minor lark, a fanciful White People Problems romp, but if that's your thing—and I do not doubt that for many it is—you'll find much to enjoy. Just don't wait around for Melissa McCarthy. She's not showing up.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.