Friends with Benefits (2011)
“Friendship is a four-letter word.”
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson
Synopsis: While trying to avoid the clichÃ©s of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan Harper and Jamie Rellis soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.
Justin Timberlake, one of the better pop stars turned actors, plays Dylan, a hot-shot blogger who is persuaded into accepting a challenging but prestigious job with GQ by sexy headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) in Will Gluck’s mildly diverting Friends With Benefits. The movie was one of 2011’s more successful Hollywood comedies, which in truth probably says more about the state of comedy movies in Hollywood than the quality of the material here.
Friends with Benefits opens with Dylan and Jamie each going through similar break-ups at the same time — in fact, Gluck, who also co-wrote with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, initially fools us into believing they are actually dating one another until we see them meeting up with their respective soon-to-be-ex partners. We next see their meet-cute at the airport as Dylan arrives for his interview to find Jamie dashing around on the baggage carousel in search of a lost name card. ‘Kooky, but cute,’ as Dylan later observes. They make a nice couple, even though they both claim to have difficulty committing. They become friends, and a discussion about no-strings-attached sex between buddies inevitably leads to the deed itself. Cue morning after immediately followed by a second strenuous session.
Friends with Benefits is the kind of movie that knows you know exactly how it is going to pan out from the opening shot. It follows a well-worn template with a knowing self-consciousness and attempts to make up for its predictability by coming up with as many humorous lines and incidents as it can muster. To be fair, it does pretty well; some of the jokes are wryly amusing and the storyline has a healthy dose of cynicism directed towards both itself and its characters’ motivations. In fact, you can just imagine the pitch: 1930s style screwball comedy with 21st Century sensibilities, so we get to see a lot of shots of our cute and handsome couple rolling around in the sack (although nothing too explicit) and talking extremely quickly as they do so. In fact Kunis reels off her lines at such a hypersonic rate during the opening ten minutes that most of what was being said flew straight over my head.
Timberlake and Kunis are likeable in their roles, and make the most of the material, while Woody Harrelson shows up every now and then in what amounts to an extended cameo to enliven things. He plays GQ’s sports editor, a guy with an obsessive distraction with print typeface and an aggressive matter-of-factness about his homosexuality (‘still gay?’ he repeatedly asks of the cute Timberlake). The ever-reliable Richard Jenkins plays Dylan’s father, who is slowly succumbing to the indignities of Alzheimer’s, and although Jenkins is as good as ever, it’s when he makes his appearance that the movie starts to lose its way by both conforming ever more rigidly to genre convention and inserting the obligatory ‘life lesson’ in order for the story to reach a conclusion that was never really in doubt. For the most part though, Friends with Benefits is a breezy and engaging movie with plenty of snappy one-liners and a couple of genuine laugh-out-loud moments.