Jennifer Westfeldt takes on ’Friends With Kids’
About a decade ago, Jennifer Westfeldt was the lipstick lesbian in one half of the alluring couple in "Kissing Jessica Stein." In that film that she co-wrote, Stein explored expanding on one’s sexuality to enlarge the dating pool, which as a result, had her find the love of her life. It was an impressive move at that time.
She now returns with a bold story challenging conventional parenting arrangements. The gist of "Friends With Kids" looks at how two BFFs who are single and of the opposite sex, saw the romance among their friends dissipate when they became parents. They decided to one up the system by having a baby together first, get the toughest part out of the way, before looking for their respective significant others.
Fans of last year’s breakout comedy "Bridesmaids" take note. Here is a comedy with a central female character dealing with very grown up issues. Kristen Wiig has made it known that there will not be a "Bridesmaids 2." So, with half of the cast members of "Friends With Kids" alums of "Bridesmaids" (Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph & Chris O’Dowd return) this is likely as close as fans can get to a sequel. Writer/Director/Actor Jennifer Westfeldt talks to EDGE about how cosmic forces came together for her directorial debut.
Why this story?
EDGE: You are credited as the writer, director and producer of this movie, this must feel like a very personal project to you. Why do you want to tell this story?
Jennifer Westfeldt: You know, every independent film is very hard to get off the ground. My last two ("Kissing Jessica Stein," Co-producer; "Ira & Abby," Executive Producer) were challenging and this was no different. It’s really about, you act as if you keep moving forward, there is a moment when it looks like it’s going to become real and you wait for the stars to align and have that one chunk when all of your cast are available, and then you try to move mountains to try to make it happen. That’s basically what happened here. We’ve got one window, in the dead of winter, a year ago in New York. The worst winter in New York in forty years!
But that was when our cast was available and free. I hadn’t intended to direct it, but that was the only way we could make the movie, in the time frame and not lose our wonderful group of actors. I decided to take that on and had an amazing amount of support to do that, some wonderful producing partners and William Rexter, an amazing DP, to support my directorial debut, and make sure that I had the tools that I needed and they had my back on set so we could make it happen.
EDGE: How personal is this story to you?
Jennifer Westfeldt: It’s personal in the sense that the kernel of the idea came from just watching so many people in my world make that transition to parenthood and have this profound life change. I’m sort of being out of sync with my peer group because I don’t have children. (Westfeldt is in a 15-year relationship with Jon Hamm) So observing the various ways people deal with the transition was part of the story and the script, but none of the characters are based on anyone I know. It’s more sort of observing trends and trying to find fictional characters to play those trends out.
Comparisons with "Bridesmaids"
EDGE: This movie will inevitably draw comparisons to "Bridesmaids," where the story centers around a female character dealing with very mature, adult themes. How do you feel about such a comparison?
Jennifer Westfeldt: Well, "Bridesmaids" is this unbelievable juggernaut success. So obviously, I would be grateful if anyone mentions us in the same breath as "Bridesmaids"! It’s this incredible film, and such a wonderful success story. But I think this film has a slightly different brand of humor than "Bridesmaids." Obviously, we shared some of the cast, which was entirely coincidental, but that’s our good fortune now. Our movie wrapped before "Bridesmaids" even came out. We’re so lucky, grateful and proud that our cast members have just this wonderful moment. So we share some DNA with that film!
EDGE: You are credited as the sole writer of this movie, but a lot of the dialogue between the guys works, and feels real. Did you get help in this aspect?
Jennifer Westfeldt: You know, I wish we had more time for ad lib on the set because we have these genius ad-libbers in this cast, but just due to the constraints of the budget and the time frame, we didn’t get that opportunity as much as I would have hoped. We had to stay on script about ninety percent of the time, but every now and again, especially in two-person scenes, where we get ad-libs and I would use them whenever I could. We also had the opportunity to workshop the script the summer before we shot so I was constantly re-writing, and as new actors would join our mix, I would try and write for their voice a little more specifically whenever I could.
EDGE: What is your view about modern day parenting? Do you believe that non-conventional parenting arrangements work?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I think it was obviously my intention to explore an alternative family arrangement with these two best friends who think they can beat the system, and have a child together as pals and seek out romance elsewhere. It’s definitely something that I see more and more of. I think people are constantly trying to redefine the rules about what a family is, and what a family looks like. I think the unifying link is that if there is love, commitment and stability for a child, then a lot of arrangements can work. Those are obviously the key. Ironically, my managers are best friends and business partners and a few months after the movie wrapped, they sat me down and announced that they are having a baby together as friends! And they’re due this week! So that’s just one degree in my life. I think we’ll continue to see more and more alternative family arrangements out there.
EDGE: The characters of the movie, Julie and Jason, fell in love with each other after 19 years together as soul mates. Do you think this family arrangement would work without any emotions and feelings involved?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I think everybody is different, every relationship is different, and every family arrangement is different. I think if you have an unbelievable love and commitment to your child, a lot of arrangements can work.
"Friends With Kids" is currently in theaters.
Watch the trailer to "Friends With Kids":