Friends With Kids, Love Stories, and Rape Culture
(spoiler alert for Friends with Kids and trigger warning for rape). One of the few things I like about international flights (besides, you know, getting to my destination) is the abundance of entertainment on board. I usually have a chance to see a movie I’d wanted to see but hadn’t been able to catch in theaters and isn’t on DVD yet. Sure, it’s not the ideal environment, but usually the movies are good enough to pass the time (I don’t really sleep on planes) and it works for me.
This time around, I got to watch several flicks I hadn’t been willing to pay to see – The Amazing Spider-man, Men in Black 3, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – and was, for the most part, pretty entertained. But one that I chose simply based on the cast ended up leaving such a sour taste in my mouth the rest of the flight. That movie? Friends With Kids.
Now, I love Adam Scott. And what I’ve seen of Jennifer Westfeldt, I like. And Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd? Count me in. But, with the last line of the movie, you’re going to have to count me out.
Friends with Kids follows Jason (Scott) and Jewel (Westfeldt) over a 3-4 year period in their lives. They have been best friends since college, and share everything – they know each other as well as two people can know each other. As their married friends begin having children, they watch the stress having kids bring to a relationship and decide (illogically so) that the answer is to have children without being married (because that makes sense). So they have a kid. They figure, they’re in their late 30s, why not have a readymade family for when they finally meet The Guy or The Girl that they’re supposed to be with forever?
Naturally, things get complicated. Now, I called the end result of the movie from the moment they said “let’s have a kid,” because it’s a romantic dramedy that is fairly predictable and relies on a lot of Rom-Com tropes (though, it thinks it clearly thinks it’s a clever subversion of said tropes, but more on that later). Mainly – sarcastic spoiler alert! – you know that Jason and Jewel are going to end up together. It’s now just a question of how, because of course men and women can’t just be friends.
Jewel falls first. And hard. She realizes how sexy it is that Jason is a good dad and all her pantsfeelings and heartsfeelings get all mixed up. Groan. And meanwhile, Jason is completely oblivious and happily going on about how the girl he’s currently with is probably The Girl because she’s really hot, has big boobs, and is a FLEXIBLE DANCER. (In short, Jason is an asshole to women. This is important information.)
But best friends in an opposite sex relationship? IT CAN’T BE. So Jewel spends most of the movie pining after Jason, who sees her as nothing more than a friend he impregnated once upon a time. All of this culminates in an uncomfortable, awkward birthday celebration where she surprises him by having a dinner for just the two of them. She explains that she’s in love with him and can’t deny it anymore, and he responds by explaining that he doesn’t see her in that way.
Fast forward to almost exactly a year later, when Jason breaks up with the one he thought was The Girl because he got bored with her (quelle surprise!) and realizes, “OH MY GOD IT’S BEEN JEWEL ALL ALONG! SHE HAD ME AT HELLO!” and other clichés.
Here’s where an awkward yet interesting movie begins to get uncomfortable. He decides that, now that he feels the way she did a full year ago, he can just tell her and it’ll all be sex and rainbows and babies.
Not so. You see, they haven’t really spoken in a year, except awkward exchanges when dropping off and picking up the kid. He hasn’t even seen all of her new home in Brooklyn (he still lives in Manhattan – three train rides or a $70 taxi ride away!). But nonetheless, on the night he decides he loves her, the kid insists on both Daddy and Mommy putting him to bed, so they do. Cue Jason saying something about wanting to stay at the house – IN FRONT OF THE KID – and Jewel’s shock and dismay.
Everything through this interaction goes in a realistic and pretty damn great manner – she yells at him for giving the kid false hope, for not thinking of her and having a conversation before saying such a thing, for thinking he can just barge in and proclaim his love. She even refuses to let him kiss her and kicks him out of her house. Yay! A woman asserting her right to make her own choices about her love life and her right to her own physical space! You never see that in supposedly romantic movies!
Had the movie ended there, it would have been good. Bittersweet, but good. A nice lesson about how it takes two people to decide to be in love and when one person sets boundaries, you cannot make them see your side. That sort of moral bites into and subverts all romantic comedy tropes that say a guy’s only obstacle to love is the free will of the woman he’s trying to date, and if he can just make her see how much he loves her, then it’ll all be peachy-keen! (Seriously, guy-persists-until-girl-gives-in is a well-defined trope).
Yet my hopes were raised and dashed almost instantly. As Jason is driving away, he realizes that he absolutely cannot let Jewel go. This is The Girl to End All Girls and they already have a kid and even though she said no there must be still something there that likes him enough to try if he can just convince her!
So he drives back to her house in a Big Romantic Gesture, tells her that he’s changed! He’s not that asshole he used to be (though, by all indications, he totally is – keep in mind, he just dumped a girl for being “too boring.”). And eventually, he pushes (literally, pushes) her into the bedroom, onto the bed, and says, “Let me fuck the shit out of you.”
I literally shuddered in my seat on the plane.
This is his big, grand gesture: begging her for sex she clearly does not want to have, in order that she may come (pun intended) to see his side. But, at this point, he’s ignored every single no she’s given tonight. She asked him to leave when the kid came home; he didn’t. She asked him to stop talking; he didn’t. She emphatically told him not to kiss her; he tried anyway. She wanted him to go away; he came back.
What reason do we, as an audience, have to believe that she felt like she could tell him no? He was “asking permission,” sure, but how enthusiastic is this consent?
If this were a real life situation, and I was that woman, I would be afraid of saying no. Even if he was my best friend. Even if I’d known him for years and years. With the behavior he’d shown that night and the way he’d treated his romantic interests/sexual conquests throughout the story, what reason do we have to believe that he’d accept a no here, and just leave?
Rather than subverting the trope, Friends With Kids buys right into it, in a way that is more starkly rape-y than any movie before it. “Let me fuck the shit out of you” isn’t exactly the most romantic way to pledge love, but it speaks to a societal norm of the idea that sex is the end-all-be-all of All the Feels and if a guy can just get the girl he likes to have sex with him, then she’ll feel the same way too! It makes the obstacle, the central conflict in a love story, that of the woman herself. The guy’s only obstacle to getting the girl he wants is the girl herself and the way he can convince her that what she really wants is him is to, well, have sex with her.
This story of "guy persists until girl gives in" is always kind of rapey, but comes across even more clearly in this movie, with the very last line being “let me fuck the shit out of you.” We’re led to believe that she says yes because she finally kisses him back, but we get no more of the story. This is our happily ever after: “let me fuck the shit out of you.”
If this is the happily ever after that Hollywood has to offer, then I’ll be quite happy being single, thank you very much.