Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Will Gluck
Stars: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones .
Writer/director Will Gluck’s previous film Easy A was one of the sharpest, cleverest and most savvy teenage comedy to emerge from mainstream Hollywood in quite some time. Therefore it is a little disappointing that his latest film is so formulaic. And if its central plot about a cute couple who form a relationship based purely on sex until real feelings and emotions complicate matters sounds horribly familiar, that’s because the same device drove the recent No Strings Attached, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.
Here the cute couple is played by Justin Timberlake (from The Social Network, etc) and Mila Kunis (Natalie Portman’s rival from Black Swan, etc).
Dylan (Timberlake) is the Los Angeles-based editor of a popular blog, who is head hunted by New York based magazine GQ. When he flies to New York he meets Jamie (Kunis), who shows him the sights. The pair click and he takes the job. Both are “emotionally unavailable” following recent break-ups and agree to have a relationship based purely on sex.
Co-written by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and Harley Peyton, Friends With Benefits is a generic romcom, and there are few surprises as it works its way through the usual complications before arriving at the contrived happy ending. But it does have some self-referential moments throughout as the two leads deconstruct the usual cliches and formulaic happy endings of the romcom genre, which adds another level to this film.
Former boy band member Timberlake has proven himself to be a quite strong actor, especially after his recent brilliant performance in The Social Network, and he is charming and likeable enough here. If he keeps picking his roles carefully he could really establish a solid career as a leading man. Kunis speaks in that sort of annoying pneumatic and breathless fashion of most adolescent girls nowadays, which makes much of her dialogue almost incomprehensible. But whereas the Kutcher/Portman pairing had little palpable chemistry, here Timberlake and Kunis click.
However, I felt that the secondary characters here were more interesting and wanted to see more of them. Woody Harrelson is wonderful as a gay sports editor whose dialogue is peppered with innuendo. Richard Jenkins is also touching as Dylan’s father, who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s but has enough lucid moments to offer his son some great advice. Jenna Elfman (from tv sitcom Dharma & Greg, etc) is also sympathetic as Dylan’s wise and patient older sister. And with her role in the forthcoming One Day, Patricia Clarkson seems to be the go to actress of choice to play quirky mothers. However, she gives her small role as Jamie’s free-spirited mother here just enough edge to make it more interesting than it could have been.
There are also nice cameos from Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, and Jason Segel and Rashida Jones appear only in the movie within a movie.
Gluck’s light touch keeps things moving and in trying to recapture the flavour of those screwball romantic comedies of yesteryear he brings a freshness to a tired formula. However, the middle act becomes a little bogged down.
Nonetheless, Friends With Benefits is superior to No Strings Attached and will appeal to those who love their romantic comedies served up with just a touch of raunchy dialogue and tasteful sex scenes.