Fame can be a funny thing. When Jennifer Westfeldt burst on to the international scene, writing and starring in Kissing Jessica Stein in 2001, no one really noticed that her boyfriend had a small part in the film. Even in 2006, when she wrote and starred in the less successful Ira & Abby, interviews with the comedian rarely mention her jobbing acting beau. She was definitely the star of the partnership. Then came Mad Men.
Chatting about her directorial debut, Friends With Kids, which will have its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it's impossible to avoid mentioning that it stars her partner since 1997, Jon Hamm. This is especially so, given that his success playing ad-man Don Draper has promoted him to the leading-man role in her latest film and he is also co-producer.
It is often difficult in a relationship when one partner is suddenly and unexpectedly superseded by another in their work life, but, as with most things, Westfeldt just sees the positives.
"It's not changed a lot in our family," she says. "It changes a lot just in our time in the outside world. It's strange to get photographed walking a dog in the neighbourhood. Losing your privacy in that way is a bit strange, so we treasure our time at home. But we have been together so long that his long- overdue fame – in my opinion – works better at this age. We've seen the ups and downs in both of our careers. We are aware that everything is fleeting, whereas our relationship isn't. So you can appreciate the moments of success with more perspective."
In Friends With Kids, Jennifer stars as Julie, a New Yorker who is often out with her best friend Jason, played by Adam Scott. Their best friends are two married couples, Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) and Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig), and when they both have kids it leaves the friends feeling left out. So they decide to have a baby together, without being together, having the child half the time and pursuing other romances when not on parent duty.
The fact Westfeldt and Hamm do not have kids makes it easy to put an autobiographical context to the story. The 41-year-old first-time director explains that, as with the previous two scripts she has written (she played on her Jewish upbringing in Kissing Jessica Stein and the infatuation with therapists and divorce in Ira & Abby can be related to her mother and stepfather both being therapists), there is an element of her own life without it being her own life.
"I think the idea came just watching all our closest friends have kids and become parents and feeling a little bit out of sync with our peer group," she explains. "Watching the changes in them as they faced the challenges and strains of becoming parents."
I ask her if any of her friends will be able to watch the film and see themselves.
"It's possible," admits Stein. "There is no character directly linked to our friends, but I think at least the way I write, every character is an amalgamation of things I've seen." Kaleem Aftab
'Friends With Kids' is at Toronto Film Festival, 8-18 SeptemberReuse content