Of all the things lost somewhere in the 1990s — cassingles, Dana Carvey, the ability to make actual plans — we should perhaps mourn, more than anything else, the romantic comedy. What was once such a fruitful genre — it gave us Harry and Sally, took us to weddings and funerals, even taught us that L.A. street walkers don't have it so bad — started to turn and curdle somewhere in the late '90s and, with only a few exceptions (Going the Distance, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), has been going steadily downhill since. We don't even call them romantic comedies anymore; they're "romcoms," a nickname as blithe and annoying as the female leads in most examples of this new mutant breed, all of them teetering clumsily on heels (they're clumsy, see, that's their flaw) while running through the city, preferably juggling eight bags and an elaborate coffee. The romantic comedy became something slickly corporatized, co-opted by the kind of faux-zany, secretly regressive aspirationalism that Sex and the City cruelly foisted upon us. Much work needs to be done to fix this ailing genre, so thank god we have at least one true aficionado of the form, a hard worker and a champion, in Jennifer Westfeldt, whose new film Friends With Kids opens today.
Westfeldt's third feature as a writer and first as a director, Friends With Kids is by no means a flawless romantic comedy, but it sparkles with enough of the classic wit and pops with enough of the modern sexual frankness that it's certainly one of the best ones to come out in recent years. To be fair, classifying it solely as a romantic comedy might be a bit narrow. Westfeldt is concerned with romance here, yes, but there are also the matters of family, of babies, of social pressures and obligations being dealt with here. Westfeldt is too smart to make something one-note, so there is a jumble of ideas and themes at work in this picture. But mostly it's romance, sweet aching adult romance that feels richly authentic even if its surrounding environs are kissed with the kinds of blessings that only exist in the movies.