Friends with Kids

Friends with KidsThis 2011 movie written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children.  I’m going to discuss the full plot in some detail, so if you don’t want the ending spoiled, you probably shouldn’t read this review.  On the other hand, the story is quite predictable and if you haven’t figured out the entire plot in the first five minutes, then all cylinders aren’t firing anyway.

Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt), are both well-paid professionals in their mid-30s.  Best friends for many years, they live in the same building in Manhattan and have long telephone conversations usually involving a choice between grisly ways to die.  Julie asks Ben if he’d rather die a long, painful death by cancer or to see a loved one die the same way.  Ben chooses to watch the loved one die because he would still be alive.

They gather regularly with married friends Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Missy (Kristen Wiig), who are obsessed with having sex, and Ben (Jon Hamm) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph).  Not interested in each other Jason and Julie continually seek their own romantic relationships, the success measured in sexual happiness.  Their friends have children, but they continue to seek permanent mates themselves until one evening they decide to have a child of their own.  Seeing the misery that their friends have experienced, they decide that they can raise a child and still search for their own soul-mates.

While Ben and Leslie manage to make their marriage work, Alex and Missy’s relationship falls apart, further evidence that they’ve made the right decision.  As time passes, Jason becomes involved with a dancer, Mary Jane (Megan Fox), while Julie finds Mr. Right in the form of Kurt (Edward Burns).  When Alex gets drunk at a New Years skiing getaway for the eight of them, he comes down hard on Jason and Julie for not thinking through the effect their decision will have on their child.  Jason strongly defends the decision, declaring how much they love each other and how much they love their little boy.

Taking this to heart, Julie realizes that she really does love Jason more than Kurt.  When they get together to celebrate her birthday, she tells him how she feels, but Jason recoils, explaining that he loves her as a friend and is already in a deep relationship with Mary Jane.  Julie decides to move to Brooklyn to get away from him.  Both of their relationships end and Jason then realizes that he actually loves Julie, too.  It ends with him telling her that he’s changed his mind: he’d rather die himself than to watch her die of cancer.  She is reluctant at first to accept this change of heart, but when he promises great sex, she changes her mind.

There are moments in this movie that ring true and come close to being genuinely touching, but the predictability of the plot makes it very hard to become attached to story.  The characters are genuinely shallow.  Self-obsessed relationship-junkies who have probably never had an original thought in their lives, their elevation of sex to the be-all and end-all of human love comes across as pathetic and self-serving.

Maybe this is the present or the future of American ideals, but I sure hope not.  One can admire Westfeldt for her hard work in doing the project, but I really wish she had taken the time to put some thought into it.  I can’t really recommend this movie to anyone.

Baby Is As Baby Does

Baby in Baby Is As Baby DoesI’m sipping a zombie martini at the marina in Huntington Beach, waiting for Daddy. He’s bringing a cashier’s check for $40,000 as a down payment on my new condo, but, as usual, he’s late. I’ve been watching the yachts coming in for the last hour, but there’s no sign of Daddy. I’m about ready to order a Cobb salad when, in the category of Things That Do Not Belong Here, a nasal voice interrupts the pleasant babble of the idle rich. It comes from the bar.

“Yes, sir,” it bleats. “A hundred grand! I shit you not! And there’s Charlie Sheen glarin’ at me across the poker table–you know he’s got those beady little eyes–and I’m thinkin’ he’s gonna whip out a pistol or somethin’, but he just grins at me and says, ‘Tripper, my boy, let’s go to Cabo.’ Next thing I know, we’s buddied up with El Patron…” He lowers his voice so only people inside the city limits will hear him. “…smokin’ the biggest goddam doobie I ever set my eyes on.”

I can tell he’s completely full of it. It isn’t just that he won a hundred grand in a poker game or went to Cabo–it’s that he hooked up with Charlie Sheen. Usually a bullshit artist does okay until they introduce the first celebrity into their story, then everything goes south. In this case, literally.

I have to look.

Oops. Eye contact. It’s a mistake I seem to make over and over. He’s confident, I’ll give him that. He comes right over to the table like he owns the place. Damn eye contact. It gets me every time.

“Hey, there, little girl,” he beams. “You’re lookin’ mighty lonely.” He pulls up a chair without asking and plunks his butt down, leaning across the table. He’s a good looking guy, skinny,  with oily black hair, and he’s wearing a Polo shirt and tan slacks. If he just kept his mouth shut, he’d fit right in with this crowd.

“Name’s Fern McGee,” he says, “but everybody calls me Tripper.” Fern McGee? Who the hell is named Fern any more? Nobody, that’s who. And Tripper? Didn’t that nickname go out in, like, the seventies?

I laugh out loud and stare at the big hand he’s holding out to me. Already, he wants to touch my skin. That’s a big no-no. I look back out at the yachts along the pier. Come on, Daddy! I may not like you, but at least you’re mine.

“You know Charlie Sheen’s a personal friend of mine?” I glance up to see a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

“Listen, Jethro,” I say, “go sling your hash somewhere else. I don’t have time for you.”

I cross my legs and turn away from him, both sure indications that he’s wasting his time, but that’s a mistake, because now he can’t take his eyes off my skirt.

“Listen,” he says, his voice finally soft and silky, “I’m just a country boy who got a little lucky, but I got me some operatin’ cash right now and I want to have some fun. How’d you like to help me spend it?”

I’ve got to admit that helping Jethro blow a hundred grand sounds like fun, but I’m not convinced he’s really got the money. A bullshit artist will say anything to hook his fish. I swivel back to face him, legs still crossed. Opening my eyes wide, I use my best little girl voice, kind of breathy with disbelief.

“Charlie Sheen?”

There’s just a brief look on his face, like maybe he knows I’m full of shit, too, but then he blinks and smiles.

“By the way, my name’s Fern, not Jethro. You can call me Trip.” He waits for a moment, but I remain still.

He’s on high alert now, but it doesn’t stop the bullshit. So here’s the whole scoop. He met Charlie while was he was working as a grip on some movie I never heard of and got invited up to his mansion where he got into a card game with a director, a couple of producers, and Charlie. He turned his beer money into a hundred grand by hustling them all night long. I’m starting to believe him now because I can just see his aw shucks game working on a bunch of Hollywood bigwigs.

After Cabo and meeting El Patron, they went bow hunting in the Brazilian rain forest. It turns out that Jethro just happens to be a world class bow hunter (who could have seen that one coming?) and he brought down a puma whose head now adorns the playroom of Charlie’s Hollywood mansion.

I check my watch. 2:30. Where the hell’s Daddy? I need that fucking money and I need to dump Jethro in a big way. Standing up, I slide the glass panel open and pop a couple of quarters in the machine. I take a good long look across the bay. No sign of Daddy. Apparently, he’s decided to jerk me off. Asshole. I step back inside, sit back down, and re-cross my legs.

Damn. I’m really between a rock and a hard place.

“So where’s your money?” I ask.

He looks around and lowers his voice. “In the trunk of my car. I only got about eighty grand left after Cabo, even though Charlie picked up most of the tab.”

“Let’s see,” I say, daring him with my eyes. I uncross my legs and he takes a good long look, holding his head sideways like maybe I don’t notice.

It’s there, all right, in a goddam brown paper bag from Safeway. I flip through a stack of bills. All hundreds. Turning my head, I look down the street like someone’s coming, so he turns and peers down the block while I slip a stack into my purse.

The old Honda looks pretty beat up, but right there in the back seat, next to his crummy brown suitcase, is the most complicated bow I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m convinced now. Jethro really is on the level.

“Let’s go to Vegas!” he says. “I got a tank full of gas and a bag full of money. Let’s go have some fun.”

I’m really torn. Will Daddy still give me the money if I take off now? I’m dependent on him, but I’m looking at freedom in a brown paper bag. Of course, if we blow eighty grand in Vegas, then poof goes the freedom, but now that I know Jethro is on the up and up, I have an advantage. From his point of view, it’s probably easy come, easy go. And half of it could easy go to my new condo. If I’m gonna pull this off, I have to stop by my apartment so I can pick up my thirty-eight, but it looks like full speed ahead.

For the first time, I smile at him and try to blush.

“Okay, Trip,” I say, my voice almost purring.

Baby’s got a new Daddy.

Waitress

waitress keri russell with babyFunny, touching, tough: three words that truly describe this vastly underrated 2007 comedy-drama, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is an amazing pie-maker in some unnamed southern town. She works at Joe’s Pie Diner with her friends, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), under the management of Cal (Lew Temple) and the ownership of Joe (Andy Griffith).  She’s married to a domineering redneck man named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), who takes all of her tip money and bullies her relentlessly, but she’s been hiding away some of the money and she hopes to enter a pie contest where the prize is $25,000–with the intention of leaving him as soon as she can.  This plan gets derailed at the very beginning of the movie when she discovers she’s pregnant.

waitress I don't want earl's baby pieThis brings on the inspiration for her to make tomorrow’s featured pie, the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie.” Dawn remarks that she shouldn’t probably write that on the menu board, so Jenna changes the name to the “Bad Baby Pie,” a quiche with Brie cheese and a smoked ham center.

waitress I hate my husband pieShe considers making an “I Hate My Husband Pie” made of bittersweet chocolate–unsweetened–made into a pudding and drowned in caramel. Deciding to keep the baby, she goes to see her doctor only to find that her gynecologist has gone into semi-retirement and most of her cases have been taken over by young, attractive Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).  When he congratulates her, she tells him that she doesn’t really want the baby, but is having it anyway, so please don’t be all happy for her.  “It’s not a party.”

Her mother taught her to bake as a child, singing this little song (written by Adrienne Shelly):

Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Baby, don’t be blue, gonna make for you
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Gonna be a pie from heaven above
Gonna be filled with strawberry love
Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

waitress marshmallow-mermaid-pieEverything is about pie creation. She brings the doctor her “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie” that she created when she was nine years old.  She makes a “Falling In Love Pie” (chocolate mousse) for Dawn’s date, and she fantasizes about new pies night and day.  At one point, she considers making a “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie” that would be a New York cheesecake brushed with brandy and topped with pecans and nutmeg.

waitress earl wants to kill me pie

“I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”

Finding Dr. Pomatter irresistible, she begins an affair with him and considers making an “Earl Murders Me ‘Cause I’m Having An Affair Pie” made with smashed blackberries and raspberries in a chocolate crust, but decides it would be better to make an “I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” with vanilla custard and banana–no–hold the banana. Among the other pies mentioned in the movie are the “Spanish Dancer Pie,” the “Naughty Pumpkin Pie,” the “Singing Tuna Casserole,” and “Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie.”

After she discovers that Becky is having an affair with Cal, she asks him, “Are you happy?” He answers, “I’m happy enough.  I don’t expect much, give much.  I don’t get much.  I generally enjoy whatever comes up.”  Dawn finds happiness with a little accountant named Ogie, but Earl continues to make Jenna’s life miserable, forcing her to have sex with him, slapping her around, and controlling her.  In fact, she conceives of the “Pregnant, Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie,” made of lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in and served flambé.

In spite of the comedy, the movie holds a very dark side. Earl, for example, though an ignorant bully, has unexpected depth.  He’s never really been loved and he depends on his control over Jenna to give meaning to his life.  Joe, the owner of the Pie Shop, is himself an old loser, but he advises Jenna to leave Earl and start all over.  “This life will kill you,” he says.  “Make the right choice.”

The script contains many unexpected depths and Shelly’s deft direction and control of the story arc keep the movie on point through its one hour and forty-eight minutes. Keri Russell is beautiful, with a big heart that makes you love and root for Jenna to find a way out of her mess.  Nathan Fillion is charming as the nervous, tender Dr. Pomatter.  Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly are funny and poignant as her waitress friends and Andy Griffith is terrific as Joe–again providing unexpected depths.

But the pies are magnificent. Every pie in the movie looks absolutely beautiful and each one acts like a Greek chorus, providing commentary on the action.

waitress adrienne shellyUnfortunately, Adrienne Shelly did not live to see her movie appear at the Sundance Film Festival or to see its critical success. Three months before it was due to open, Shelly discovered a thief in her apartment.  The man panicked and killed her.  A foundation has since been established in her name to help young female filmmakers fulfill their dreams and you man contribute at The Adrienne Shelly Foundation.

Everyone should see this movie! It’s a film that can be seen over and over again with a kind of sensual culinary pleasure, with laughter and tears, and lots and lots of love.

Funny, touching, tough.