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Toronto 2011: Westfeldt, Davies films bound for theaters

September 19, 2011 |  9:36 am


As the Toronto International Film Festival wound down on Sunday, distributors snapped up a pair of movies.

Music Box acquired Terence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea," starring Rachel Weisz. Set in 1950s, the film centers on the wife of a British high court judge who, in a subversive move, leaves her husband to begin a romance with a young pilot. The acquisition spells the first English-language release for the Chicago-based distributor, which is behind the Swedish-language "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

And in a deal that had long been anticipated, Jennifer Westfeldt's parenthood dramedy "Friends With Kids" has sold to Lionsgate. Westfeldt revealed the news to Deadline at an Emmy party that she attended with her partner (and “Kids” co-star), Jon Hamm, whose "Mad Men" took top drama prizes at the TV awards Sunday night. A spokesman for the film's producers later confirmed the sale.

Lionsgate has yet to announce the deal officially, and no release date has been set.

Westfeldt and Hamm don't have kids themselves. But the actress-filmmaker told 24 Frames in an interview at the Toronto festival that she learned a lot watching her friends dive headfirst into parenthood. Westfeldt has seen all her friends move out of New York City and head to the suburbs; she’s watched couples lose their love for each other as a baby becomes a top priority; and she’s witnessed relationships evolve as a couple becomes a family.

Westfeldt explores all the good and bad that comes with parenting in her new film. It’s an ensemble comedy where she plays a woman, still single, who after watching her friends basically fall apart with new baby duty, decides to conceive a child with her friend (Adam Scott) with the hope that since they aren’t a couple their relationship won’t erode. At least that's the hope.

Westfeldt, 41, originally wrote part of the script four years ago but then put it away. She pulled it back out last year with an eye toward completing her decade-long trilogy that began with the bisexual-dramedy "Kissing Jessica Stein" (2001), which Westfeldt co-wrote and starred in, and continued with "Ira and Abby" in 2006.

“In ‘Kissing Jessica Stein,’ it’s 'what if you could be attracted to a girl?' Maybe you could if she was awesome," she said. "With ‘Ira and Abby’ [which Westfeldt starred in opposite Chris Messina], it was about, if half of marriages end in divorce, then you have just as good of odds with a stranger as you do with someone who you’ve been with for years."

She continued, "And this one, [it was the] same sort of subversive idea [but] about kids. It motivated me that maybe it’s some trilogy here of the life phases I’ve been through and wanting to document that in some way.”

One of the prime motivations was Westfeldt and Hamm’s feelings of being out of sync with their friends who were having children.

“You feel out of step with your peer group,” she added. “You show up to the 1-year-old birthday to try to have quality time with your friends, and everyone asks which one is yours, and you feel like an idiot. ‘Oh, no, we’re just here with gifts.’ That happens a lot. You notice the difference. You notice your friends making new friends with people who have children the same age. You starting thinking, ‘Wait, who’s Tracy? When did that happen?' ”

In "Friends With Kids," Westfeldt, in her directorial debut, took a chance and shot one 10-minute scene with the entire cast around a dinner table. It’s the piece de resistance of the film -- it features an epic verbal sparring match between Hamm’s character and Scott’s character -- and a scene she believes that she’d never get away with if this movie had been made with studio money.

“I think this movie is a risk in every way,” says Westfeldt. “Certainly no studio would allow you to film a 10-minute scene. It’s kind of ridiculous actually, but it felt like the right way to have a climax for all eight of these characters.”

-- Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jennifer Westfeldt at the Toronto Internatonal Film Festival. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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