It seems the idea of relationship-free sex between two consenting and non-paying adults is too ripe a premise for just one movie. And Will Gluck’s Friends with Benefits hits theaters six months after Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher tried the exact same thing in No Strings Attached. But for Benefits, he’s assembled a dream team of actors, including Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, along with supporting players Richard Jenkins Patricia Clarkson and Woody Harrelson. No Strings set the bar low, can Friends with Benefits jump it? Alas, no…
- Director: Will Gluck
- Screenplay: Keith Merryman (story and screenplay), David A. Newman (story and screenplay), Will Gluck (screenplay), Harley Peyton (story)
- Actors: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman
- Cinematography by: Michael Grady
Dylan (Timberlake) is a successful webmaster, Jamie (Kunis) is a successful headhunter. Jamie brings Dylan to New York to work for GQ magazine, and though he’s a west coaster, he accepts the job. Since she’s the only person he knows in New York, they become friends, and after hanging out and drinking, both talk about how their last relationships ended terribly, and how they’d just like someone to have sex with, but without the relationship. They enter an arrangement for this, but then feelings get in the way.
- Chemistry: There is nothing worse than watching a film where the two leads are supposed to want to have sex, but have no connection or spark. Timberlake and Kunis have great banter, and you buy that they’re attracted to each other. That’s sadly something that is often lacking from romantic comedies, where people are often packaged more for their fame than their chemistry together.
- Charm: Though Timberlake may be a less than exciting interview subject, he’s clearly got it. And Kunis has a great comic persona. She’s not ditzy, but she’s got some goofball in her, and she’s fun to hear get cranky.
- Maudlin: Timberlake’s father (Jenkins) has Alzheimer’s in the film, which the film doesn’t earn having. That sort of weight would sink the film if it didn’t already have problems. And (on a personal note) having lived through it, its usage offended me.
- Jokes That Don’t Hit: The film opens with two break-up scenes with cameos by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone. You can see how many takes they went through to get there, but there’s a lot of throwing things at the wall and sometimes they don’t stick. It’s nice to see Woody Harrelson playing a gay guy who isn’t lisping, but his character is still close to one dimensional. the actor makes some of it work, but the cameo by non-actor Shaun White takes a one-note joke and then mercilessly pounds it into the ground. There’s also bits revolving around a flash mob – which the film has to painfully explain what they are – that remind of films from the 1990′s that used the internet as if no one involved had ever used a computer before.
- Having Your Cake and Eating it Too: The movie mocks the conventions of the genre, but then uses some of the hoariest cliches of the genre, including the “overheard conversation that leads to a break up” and then the “you got to have righteous anger at me, so now I get to show how I’m just as hurt as you.” Though No Strings Attached is not a very good movie, you can see how it tried to avoid the obvious cliches. This goes full bore ahead with them, and – though Gluck would argue that it’s in a post-modern way – it seems silly to try and suggest that cliched romantic comedies are bad, and then being one.
Star power is star power- Timberlake and Kunis have it, and for those who want to enjoy watching people they like for two hours, this fits that bill. But the film around them is not particularly good, even if there are moments here and there where you could see a good movie made out of this material.
Friends with Benefits opens July 22.