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Unmarried with Children: Friends with Kids bends the formula without breaking it 

Maya Rudolph stars in the newest film, Friends with Kids.

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back while simultaneously learning a profound life lesson. Rinse, repeat. That's the timeworn formula employed by every romantic comedy. Some films rest comfortably within the format and fail. (Good Luck Chuck, All About Steve) Others can work within those parameters and create art (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, When Harry Met Sally). Friends with Kids falls disappointingly between those two extremes. The screenplay has a fascinating central conceit that creates dramatic tension, but then falls back on all of the typical genre conventions for the final act.

WriterDirectorStar Jennifer Westfeldt has built a career writing films that playfully deconstruct traditional relationships in favor of something more experimental. In Kissing Jessica Stein, she told the story of a heterosexual woman burned by too many horrible blind dates who turns to lesbianism. With Ira & Abby, she focused on what would happen if two people got engaged after just one conversation.

Friends with Kids follows Westfeldt and Adam Scott (on loan from Parks and Recreation) who, as friends, conceive a child together after seeing how miserable their married friends are when they add a child to the equation. Their rationale is that if they aren't interested in being in a romantic relationship, then they can raise the child together while still searching for "The One."

Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (basically half the cast of Bridesmaids take on the married couples roles. They look at Westfeldt's and Scott's grand experiment as not only something doomed to fail, but as an affront to their life choices. The supporting cast is brilliantly funny, adding levity to a story that explores much darker corners than the formula typically allows.

Whether or not you'll embrace this film depends on how willing you are to believe that previously happy couples become miserable when they have children. The unmarried couple's initial success is where Westfeldt succeeds, but the film becomes muddied when it eventually embraces the typical genre trappings. Westfeldt wants to deconstruct the genre, but she also wants everyone to live happily ever after. That indecision tarnishes the finale of an otherwise wonderful film, leaving the audience with an ending both crowd-pleasing and bizarre. In a film built upon such a subversive foundation, it's disappointing to see that Westfeldt was just scribbling on top of a formula she had no intention of challenging.

Friends with Kids

2 1/2 Stars

Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph, Chris O' Dowd, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Megan Fox and Edward Burns.

Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

Rated R

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