It's surprising to hear Jennifer Westfeldt say she hadn't planned to direct. The three intimate relationship comedies she's written are exactly the kind of small-scale auteur projects the festival circuit is built upon.
In 2001, Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen wrote Kissing Jessica Stein, in which they play straight women who date each other. In 2006, Westfeldt penned Ira & Abby, starring opposite Chris Messina as a pair of neurotic New Yorkers who get married the day they meet. Out now is Friends with Kids, where Westfeldt and her best friend (Adam Scott) decide to jump on the baby bandwagon together, as friends.
Westfeldt was already the writer, producer and star, but "I did not intend on directing it, no," says the weary-sounding hyphenate from LA between talk show appearances. "Jake Kasdan was on board to direct for awhile, pending his schedule with Bad Teacher. But with any indie film there's so many moving parts and it's so difficult to find that magic moment where your cast is available at the same time. And when that happened, Jake was still working on Bad Teacher, and he, along with the rest of our producing partners, really encouraged me to jump in and direct it. If I hadn't have, we would've lost the cast."
It was a risk worth taking, considering that cast---joining Westfeldt's Julie and Scott's Jason is a Bridesmaids reunion of Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm (Westfeldt's boyfriend) and Chris O'Dowd, plus Ed Burns and Megan Fox as the protagonists' respective love interests.
"I think people typecast you and only think about you in one way and whatever they've seen you in, and maybe don't know the range," says Westfeldt. "It was exciting on this one to---not only with Adam but certainly with Kristen and with Megan---to show people who think of them in one way, that they can do anything, that they have this other side, this tremendous range."
Scott, the wry dork from Parks and Recreation and Party Down, is what could be called "an unconventional lead"---especially with Hamm there---but Westfeldt brushes that off.
"People would be watching him in Parks and Rec and say, 'Yes he's charming and he's comedic, but does he have dramatic chops?' And I would get so frustrated," she says. "I would be like 'I'm sending you a copy of The Vicious Kind today. Watch it immediately and don't talk to me until you have.' And that was a brilliant, brilliant turn in a small indie that was little seen. He plays a dark, tortured character---it almost recalls a young Jack Nicholson. And they'd be like, 'OK I get it.'"
In the middle of the blitz for Friends with Kids, Westfeldt has no idea if she wants the director's seat again. But she speaks like---no matter which credits precede her name---the indie auteur she's always been.
"It's never exactly as you envisioned it when you're on a low budget because you never know what you're gonna get and what's gonna go wrong. Of course we had the worst weather in 50 years," she says. "We also had babies and toddlers and kids every day on the set, so there were a lot of things that had to be thrown out the window. And sometimes the lower budget helps you find innovative ways to solve things. I can see every flaw or every compromise or everything we didn't get the way that I wanted. But that's also because I know what it was."