Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Jul 22, 2011
06:23 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: Friends with Benefits
Films opening this weekend:
Captain America: The First Avenger - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix; Transit Drive-In - REVIEW
Friends with Benefits - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals; Flix; Transit Drive-In
The Trip - North Park Dipson
I refuse to call it a romantic comedy. Yes, there are clichés, there’s love, some sex, and a little bit of heart, but Friends with Benefits is not just the sum of those parts. It is a raunchy buddy comedy that excels despite its genre’s limitations, a fun, witty, and smart tale of two damaged souls who find their best friend and successfully add a physical relationship to the equation. Boy does director Will Gluck know how to pick a script.
Hot on the heels of another rom/com love affair with similar plot threads in No Strings Attached, I admittedly didn’t go out of my way to seek information about Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ foray. I never saw a trailer, abhorred the blatant Photoshop work of its posters, and sadly had a bad taste in my mouth for the ex-*NSYNCer after Bad Teacher. But then came the startling realization that the man who helmed Fired Up! and Easy A was at the camera. I felt safe that, no matter the intrinsic faults of the genre, he would make everything okay—and he did.
Right from the start we’re treated with a blatant subversion of romance tropes. Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) are brought forth, readying for a date: he is running late, consumed by work; she is waiting impatiently, frustrated by missing the beginning of her favorite, Pretty Woman. Juxtaposed through quick cuts as she maneuvers through the B.S. and he continues to give it, I almost believed we’d get some weird timeline manipulation—beginning with the relationship to shortly find how they got there. But no, this wasn’t the plan at all.
Instead, we find they are on opposite sides of the country, meeting their respective significant others for the final time. Relationships have never been either’s strong suit; their personal issues exacerbated by the craziness from two cool kids like Emma Stone and Andy Samberg not helping the cause. This was the final straw and both were ready to forsake the other gender … at least for the immediate present.
And then they meet. We’ve barely been watching ten minutes and already we see the kinship these two could have, their fateful meeting with her as headhunter and he, as the prospective new art director for GQ magazine, her prized asset. Dylan decides to change his life and put down roots on the East Coast, and these two simply click.
This is what makes Friends with Benefits so good—the back and forth between the duo. Timberlake and Kunis are a riot together with chemistry that works and great comedic timing. Their lives become intertwined as they discover they can tell each other anything and everything they want without fear of being judged, even singing and dancing Kris Kross with complete confidence.
Unfortunately, the time spent together forsaking the idyllic dreams of happily-ever-afters causes a lull in their active sex lives. But why should "it" be any different than two chums playing tennis? Why can’t they merely satisfy a need with one another and not risk excess baggage? Surprisingly, they can and—I’m not giving anything away that the title doesn’t already—the two bump uglies in what is easily the best scene of the film. Their candor is hysterical and their bond grows deeper.
Don’t be misled, however, as there are definitely romantic moments to tug at your heartstrings. Clichés abound like the free-spirited mother (Patricia Clarkson), the shadow of a once great man and father (Richard Jenkins), and the burly, homosexual coworker (Woody Harrelson). But the comedy is able to make the contrivances disappear. And this is why I can’t praise the film enough. We get a stellar indie soundtrack, two wonderful lead performances, and a romance that rises above its inevitability, creating a blueprint towards the perfect romantic comedy.
Friends with Benefits 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Justin Timberlake as "Dylan" and Mila Kunis as "Jamie" in Screen Gems' FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. Photo By: David Giesbrecht
 Mila Kunis as "Jamie" and Justin Timberlake as "Dylan" in Screen Gems' FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. Photo By: Glen Wilson