Film Review – Friends With Benefits
Trying to have sex without the attachments has been a film favorite topic for awhile now. Just a few months ago, we had Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman try it. Now it is another attractive couple’s turn in the form of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, and here there is a big difference: they have believable chemistry.
In Friends With Benefits, we are introduced to Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who is a web designer from California. He is being pursued by Jamie (Mila Kunis), a persistent headhunter, to work at GQ in New York. After selling him on the job and New York, he moves there and they start to hang out and become friends. Through the magic of montage, we see how her in-your-face personality and his laid-back-but-able-to-hold-his-own personality click, and they become good friends. Since they have each been burned in relationships, they do not move beyond being good friends. Until they get the bright idea that they should be able to have sex without any attachments.
For awhile, this works. Our characters have some great chemistry, beyond just being attractive, and they have a believable friendship before they start having sex. We see them hang out and talk and actually bond. They are both driven people, but not without a sense of fun. They connect on a mental level, which is a welcome surprise, and it makes it easier to see why they are attracted to each other, even if at first it is only sexual for them. That and they actually have interesting sex scenes. So many films would have had them in bed several times with just a few jokes thrown in. Here, there are jokes, but there is a more verbal word play. They share their “quirks” about having sex and give their scenes a more playful and almost realistic feel.
That is where the humor comes from in the film. Ignoring the usually slapstick, “boy hurting himself” that sells so many comedies, they instead focus on the wordplay between our two leads. The way they talk about their “issues” and have great friendly and not-so-friendly sparring matches makes for a more fun and believable time. Besides the leads, we get Woody Harrelson, in a supporting role as a sports writer at Dylan’s office who does not care who knows he is gay. He is blunt in ways we have never seen Woody Harrelson be before, and that provides some good comedy.
What’s romance and comedy without a few issues? Here, it’s both the characters having issues about relationships, and most of it from their family backgrounds. Jamie’s come in the form of Lorna (Patricia Clarkson) her mother. From her, we can figure out a lot of Jamie’s issues with relationships. Lorna is flighty, irresponsible, and has had many relationships (so many that she is not certain who Jamie’s father is). She does love her daughter, and it is played with in a nice balance between comic relief and her as a source of Jamie’s issues. We can see why Jamie has trust issues, and we can empathize with her.
Dylan has issues with his family as well, mainly his father; to explain would give too much away, but it is handled decently. It is brought up towards the second half of the film and feels a bit more forced compared to Jamie’s issues; this is due to it being shown much later in the film and being a bit more undefined. Timberlake sells it the best he can, but it is a weaker moment in the film. It also hurts because it leads into the clichés expected from a movie like this. The moment of misunderstanding and the grand gestures seemed unnecessary, since they had been breaking through a lot of the romantic comedy clichés. While distracting, it is handled better than in most movies, since it’s not focused on as heavily.
Overall, what sells this film is our two leads. They are both messed up characters in ways that sell them as real people. When we find out new things about them, it doesn’t feel too out of left field; we believe that this is how they would react in this situation. Besides, this film is just fun to watch! Timberlake and Kunis do a nice job of sharing in the levels of screw-ups and witty dialogue as they give and take, and the enjoyment that these two bring to the screen helps make this better than most romantic comedies out there.
Final Grade: B+