Sunday, March 11, 2012

Friends With Kids (C-)

Occasionally when watching a film, you have no greater desire than for it to immediately end. This yearning for conclusion could stem from a vast variety reasonings outside viewing something absolutely abysmal; for example, in many horror movies, you hope the runtime trails off before the empathetic main character inevitably meets their looming demise. Wishing a film will end during a certain point in time doesn't imply that the film you're watching is necessarily bad; it can exemplify the power this particular story, and the way it's told, has over your very emotions. The most recent example of this happening to me was Josh Trank's superhero/found footage drama Chronicle, a film which I sadly was unable to fully review due to excruciating writer's block, but definitely deserves this tiny mention to serve as an apology. For those who've not seen or heard of the film, Chronicle chronicles (not even a pun, but still necessary) the origin of three teenagers who develop supernatural powers, but fail to understand the responsibilities required when these incredible abilities are obtained. It's a character based blockbuster, using the found footage sub-genre to ground what could easily be considered a generic, high flying story. Right before the tragic third act kicks in, an optimistic scene at a party takes place: A calm before the storm. We as the audience understand this sense of joy between the three troubled leads will end, but do not want it to. We desire to end the film immediately.

However, when the highpoint of these character's happiness ends, so do the film's ambitions. While the first two thirds focused on truly understanding characters in a stylistically unique way, the final third succumbs to generic superhero convention, and drags the film along with it. Had the film ended in the party sequence, we as an audience may've felt slightly cheated when discussing the conclusion, but also satisfied with the film on whole. We desire the film to end immediately not entirely because of our relationship with the characters, but also because we are essentially saving the film from itself. When I entered the surprisingly crowded movie theater two nights ago, I expected my comparisons to be more of the Bridesmaids type variety, but in a strange turn of events, my opening paragraphs discuss the seemingly genre polar opposite instead. In a comparison you probably won't read anywhere else despite its apparent truth: Jennifer Westfeldt's NYC set romantic comedy Friends With Kids is a lot like Chronicle, or at least in it's critique.

For approximately the first hour and fifteen minutes of the film, I had an incredibly different, and far more positive, review in mind. This was a daring romantic comedy, one that spat in the face of convention, and allowed it's two leads (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt) to find romance in those who weren't the other. It had a stellar supporting cast in SNL all-stars Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, Edward Burns, and the criminally underrated Chris O'Dowd. Even Megan Fox was holding her own against these distinguished comedic actors. The dialogue was fun and breezy, all characters had interesting relationships with each other, and the comedy switched seamlessly from the intellectual to the extremely lowbrow (yes, there's a repeat of The Change-Up's feces in face scene, but here it's one of the funniest moments of the film). Akin to the party scene from Chronicle, there's a montage in which all the characters seem happy with their respective partners. Everything is back to normal. Everything going fine. While this may be our perspective as the audience (and seemingly the character's perspective as well), it certainly isn't Westfeldt's as the film's sole writer and director. And thus, the film proceeds for another 45 minutes, spits in the face of its own creativity, becomes more generic than the last Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy you saw that wasn't Wanderlust, and through all this, almost entirely self-destructs into a horribly dull formulaic mess which betrays everything that came before it. Just as in Chronicle, had the film ended immediately following the montage, the conclusion might be slightly rushed, but the film on whole would greatly benefit. However, the film keeps going, and suffers horribly.

Review In Which The Film Ended After The Montage: B
Regular Review: C-

Note: After writing this review, I think I was way too harsh on Chronicle's ending. Unlike Friends With Kids, the ending still kind of works because of its inventive use of visuals, and doesn't nearly derail the film as I made it out to be. It's entertaining, but not on par with the rest of the film. However, I do stand by my opinion of Friends With Kids.

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