Friends With Benefits
Starring Justin Timberlake Mila Kunis Patricia Clarkson Jenna Elfman Bryan Greenberg Richard Jenkins Woody Harrelson
Written by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck, Harley Peyton
Directed by Will Gluck
Release: 22 July 2011
Screen Gems, 110 mins., Rated R
Plot: Jamie and Dylan engage in a strictly sexual friendship minus the romantic entaglement thing, but of course, those pesky feelin's come out bubblin'....
Chemistry and script. In order for these romantic comedies or dramas to succeed, you absolutely one hundred percent need these two. Of course, every film requires these components: a shit movie would inevitably follow. However, when dealing with this specific genre, there’s certain expectations and troves the film must abide by. 96% of the time (pulled the number out of my ass; not official by any means) girl ends up with boy, the film ends with a kiss and a pop song that reassures the audience that everything will be alright, and the couple presumably live happily ever after. The two leads – er, characters – realizing their attraction for one another, overcoming any hurdles in their way, and ending up together is the genre’s DNA. Watching that same formula repeated infinite number of times can be entertaining for only so long, so there you have it – chemistry and script. Without those two supremely important elements, your romantic comedy or drama is going to fall flat on its face, be a load of utter bullshit, and be excruciatingly difficult to watch.
Earlier this year, the topic of two friends entering a strictly sexual relationship minus all the emotionally touchy-feely lovey-doveyness came out to mixed results. No Strings Attached featured two likable leads, and was actually entertaining despite the gigantic odds against it. And although I enjoyed it, upon further reflection and especially after seeing this, it didn’t quite deliver on its promoted premise. Plus, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher can’t hold their own against the comedy greatness of Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.
I don’t say that out of biased love for Kunis who is beyond gorgeous or enjoyment of Timberlake’s music (which I don’t actually like), but because Kunis and Timberlake posess genuine chemistry, and the screen sizzles with energy and excitement when the two are on the screen. Often, the writers/director throws in a scene or two of the characters just sitting around talking about whatever amuses them, and they giggle and laugh and find common ground. It’s meant to be a character building moment, but hardly ever do they come across as anything but contrived moments forcing the audiences to find personality in these cardboard characters. Not the instance here. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the directing, or maybe it’s simply Mila and Justin, but dialogue and character interaction is one of the many strengths FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS has in its arsenal.
Another great component is that it takes the SCREAM route. The conventions of the romantic comedy are discussed, ripped apart, and mocked more than once in the movie. Hell, you even got Jason Segal and Rashida Jones in a faux romantic comedy (in the world of BENEFITS) that indulges in every cliché imaginable: setting, dialogue, characters, music). Funny aside: I momentarily imagined the Segal/Jones enterprise as another ingenious marketing tool for THE MUPPETS; but different companies and al that sorta doesn’t make that possible….) I don’t think this is going to be a huge spoiler to reveal this little bit, but in the end, Mila and Justin end up together. The finale is a true romantic cliché. But it works. The characters and film acknowledge them, and move on. It’s a part of the story, it doesn’t dictate the story.
That sense of fun is all over the flick. I laughed, chuckled, and grinned often. The chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis is perhaps the strongest and authentic all year. The script is self-referential, crude, dirty, and clever all in one. No, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS isn’t the embodiment of romantic comedy perfection, but it’s a pretty darn stellar film when all is said and done. I loved these characters, and I didn’t want the ending to come because I didn’t much fancy the idea of parting with them. I don’t know if the characters will stay romantically involved, but hell, it’s guaranteed that the sequel – following the demise of that relationship or the continued growth of it – would be just as entertaining and hilarious as the beginning of it.
I have some nice things to say about the film, indeed. As for negatives, the only thing that I found myself displeased with was the ridiculous-yet-mandatory crux in the relationship. That thing – event or phrase or what have you – that separates our lovers from fully indulging in their romantic notions. Basically, one is pissed off and the other one is stubborn or sad and don’t communicate. In the end, there’s the resolution of happiness. It’s difficult to tackle that annoying clichéd obstacle, but similarly to the whole ‘handling-a-tried-and-true-formula’ it all depends on how the writer(s) tackle the matter that makes the difference. Unfortunately, they aren’t all that successful in delivering a believable, realistic obstacle. It feels very forced, and that’s an immediate pull out.
Of course not all will love FRIENDS. I went in with low expectations. Frankly, the prime motivator here was Mila Kunis. She’s hot, she’s feisty, and she knows how to deliver comedy. It’s just a surprise that not only did Timberlake deliver a great performance and Woody Harrelson was hilarious in his underused role. Low expectations help, and in this case, I probably shouldn’t hype it up too much. Just go in with the hope of a fun, raunchy flick, and you’ll get exactly that.
In the case of FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS versus NO STRINGS ATTACHED, FRIENDS wins. The characters are more real and personable, the script is clever and funny, and most of all, I enjoyed my time more.
Rating: 8/10 – FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS succeeds in presenting two immensely likable characters accomplishing the impossible: making us believe in this scenario, these characters, and their words with absolute conviction. Loads of fun, don’t miss.