I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I find the process excruciating. Solitary, tedious, ridden with all things unhealthy and life-shortening—sleepless nights, junk food binges, too much coffee and red wine, nail-biting, weird headaches, and a general, pervasive sense of inadequacy.
That said, the sensation of “having written” is decidedly more pleasant. Particularly when someone else—a perfect stranger—finds something useful, truthful, funny, sad or otherwise relatable in your story. Then the whole experience becomes retroactively satisfying, and oddly comforting. A way to connect with other people and document your take on life in some way. Worth trying once.
But just the once.
So when people asked me, after Kissing Jessica Stein, what my next movie would be, I had no response other than to borrow a line from Annie Hall: “I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” And that remained true for a long time.
But eventually I found another subject that compelled me, another milestone that I had a take on—another slightly subversive comedy that needed to emerge. The result of that was Ira & Abby, shot exactly five years after Kissing Jessica Stein.
And now, exactly five years after that effort, I have made Friends With Kids.
I have been trying to make sense of this weird tic I have to write and make an indie film in perfect five-year intervals—this strange pull to make sense of life’s milestones, whether or not I have experienced them. This need to memorialize.
All three films have the same idea at their core—they all ask the question: “Why do we have to do X the same way everyone else does? Why can’t we change the rules?” In Kissing Jessica Stein, that question was, “If I find that person I completely click with, why should it matter if it happens to be another girl?” In Ira & Abby, the question was, “If half of marriages end in divorce, don’t I have as good a chance with a stranger as I do with someone I’ve known for years?” And in Friends With Kids, the question is, “If having kids can strain a romantic relationship, then why not have a kid with your best friend and find unfettered romance elsewhere?”
In all three films, there is an earnest attempt to “beat the system” and have it all—the perfect relationship, the lasting marriage, the perfect co-parenting set-up. And in all three, things get a great deal more complicated.
The journey in Friends With Kids that Julie and Jason embark on to be “100% committed half the time” not only has consequences for each of them, but the decision ripples through their tight-knit circle of friends, wreaking havoc, kindling jealousies, judgments, insecurities—and ultimately leading the entire group to question their choices, and their evolving definitions of love and family.
There is a nice closure to completing this unintentional trilogy—and there’s something clean about the fact that I wrote each script as I contemplated the approaching milestone ages of 30, 35 and 40, respectively.
I have never kissed a girl, except onscreen; I have been with the same man for 14 years and have never married; and I remain childless, save a beloved Shepherd mix who feels like family. But somehow these films represent my experiences—and what I have observed. They document my take on it all.
I may have this indie film bug out of my system now. Or maybe in five years I will think of something else to say.
- Jennifer Westfeldt
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