Rating: 3 stars out of 5
It is us or is watching Friends With Benefits a serious case of déjà vu? A movie about a guy and a girl who’s just in it for the sex so that they can stay friends? We think everyone has seen the 999th version of that movie earlier in the year with the pathetic No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, or version 998with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in Love And Other Drugs.
Trying to divorce fun casual sex with emotional consequence is quite a challenge these days especially when you’re two hot young things (and big stars at that) starring in a big budget movie. Chances are that things go all peachy at the end.
So we have Mila Kunis as Jaime, a head hunter living in New York who persuades Dylan (Justin Timberlake), an art director at an LA website to fly across the country and interview for a dream job: An art director for GQ magazine. In order to make her commission, Jamie must ensure that Dylan keeps the job for a year, so she gives him a personal tour of the city and invites him into her circle of friends. He accepts the offer, and since she’s the only person he knows in the city, Timberlake turns to her for friendship.
And what’s two impossibly good looking hotties inclined to do after several dinner dates and home movies: Insert no-strings-coupling subplots here.
Although director Will Gluck (Easy A) tries to steer clear of the clichéd rom-com formulae by taking the piss of rom coms—obvious digs at Katherine Heigl romantic comedies is one example. One of the movie’s running jokes is that both Jaime and Dylan are absolutely immune to rom-com clichés (another great running joke’s about Semisonic’s “Closing Time”). But as the movie trudges on, all that originality that director Gluck tries to put forward in the script exhausts too quickly as Hollywood rears its ugly head and piles on the gooey-ness.
Probably the saving graces in this movie are its main stars. Kunis and Timberlake are aces in Friends with Benefits, trading witty banter back and forth like a pair of tennis playing champs. This is definitely something that most rom-com lacks—a really good dialogue that sits squarely with the two leads. Add some sex and bare skin into the mix and you’ve got a winner, well, just barely.
Timberlake continues to prove himself as a truly gifted actor, with sharp comedic timing and, as displayed in The Social Network (barring the bad Bad Teacher), a knack in handling moments of emotional tenderness. You might also not want to miss as the singer-turned actor shows off his action star chops in upcoming sci-fi actioner In Time.
Kunis, on the other hand, a veteran as compared to Timberlake, having honed her comedic chops in That 70s Show and Family Guy, plays a smart and capable young woman whose unabashed wit and spunkiness lifts the otherwise predictable film.
Watching Kunis and Timberlake move on from being awkward and clumsy in the first act to being flirtatious and playful in their bedroom romps, and then finally dealing with their complicated emotions during the final act, though expected, is a charm to watch. They are just enjoyable to watch.
Let’s also not forget the excellent supporting cast: Patricia Clarkson is spot on as Jaime’s offbeat hippie mom while Woody Harrelson shines as Dylan’s gay co-worker at GQ. Not to mention Emma Stone and Andy Samberg as Kunis’ and Timberlake’s angry exes (genius cameos we say).
The naked truth about Friends With Benefits? Well, it’s an entertaining grown up comedy that’s definitely bringing sexy back to an otherwise boring genre.