In ‘Friends,' Westfeldt counters convention
NEW YORK (AP) — “First of all, I’m an Aquarius.”
Jennifer Westfeldt is only half-joking in explaining how she came to be a combatant of convention. In the past 10 years, she has written and starred in three films, each of which takes the anxiety of a particular passage of adulthood — dating, marrying, parenting — and comically, candidly pursues them from an untraditional perspective.
In 2002′s “Kissing Jessica Stein,” the film that catapulted Westfeldt to chic indie status, her character tires of the kind of men who describe themselves as “self-defecating” and gives lesbianism a shot.
Five years later, in “Ira & Abby,” she played a twice-divorced woman who abandons the considered courtship that led only to heartbreak, and gets hitched on a hunch.
And now, after another five years, Westfeldt is back with “Friends With Kids,” which opens Friday in limited release, and she’s directing for the first time, too.
Westfeldt plays Julie, a 30-something New Yorker who has a child with a platonic friend, Jason (Adam Scott), in hopes of maintaining a romantic single life and foregoing the trappings of married parenthood.
“If someone says something’s impossible, I’m always like, `Really?“’ says Westfeldt over tea at an Upper West Side restaurant. “I don’t just follow or believe things that are dictated. I’m always wondering why it has to be that way.”
Westfeldt, 42, doesn’t look like a rebel. She’s a smiley, earnest, down-to-earth, fashionable Upper-Westsider, who chats cheerfully while brushing back her long blonde hair.
“She’s an open book,” says Jon Hamm, her boyfriend of 14 years and a co-star of “Friends With Kids.” “There’s not a lot of subterfuge or deflection in her, probably to her detriment. Sometimes the press can be a nasty beast, no offense. She is the most open-hearted, sweetest most loving person that I know. And I think that’s pretty obvious in the work that she does.”
That work includes stints on Broadway and numerous TV series, but her most personal work are her three penned films, all of which bely an instinct to reexamine society’s assumptions.
“Friends With Kids” may sound like a facile premise, but the title has a double meaning. As much as the film is about a pair of friends having a baby, it’s about the experience of seeing your close friends marry, move to the suburbs (or, in the film, Brooklyn) and lose their old identities behind a BabyBjorn wall.
Julie and Jason’s circle of friends have all crossed the child Rubicon, with varying results. Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd play a sleep-deprived couple drowning in diapers but making it through, while Kristen Wiig and Hamm are paired in a relationship becoming undone by the stress of parenting.
Much of the film, shot on a small budget over four weeks last year in the midst of one of New York’s snowiest winters, is centered on a trio of dinner scenes. With cinematographer Will Rexer, Westfeldt studied the camera movements of large dinner scenes in films like “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “The Big Chill.”
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