Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Friends with Benefits

So last year Hollywood released two films with identical premises, Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. This happens every once in a while; two movies in the same year, sometimes within months of each other, that seem to have the same plot based on the title or what we see in the trailers. The most recent example I can think of off-hand is Observe and Report and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. This doesn’t mean that the films are similar in tone and content but it’s pretty much impossible not to draw comparisons. However these two mvoies (the ones we're starting with today) are actually notable because each film stars an alumni of That 70s Show in one of the lead roles. It almost seems like that had to have been planned. I “missed out” on seeing these two romantic comedies in theaters but I recently decided it would be “fun” to watch, review and compare the two movies. So here we are: today I will look at Friends with Benefit and sometime in the very near future I’ll do No Strings Attached and compare the two.

Not coincidentally this film stars Mila Kunis, an actress who I used to think was terrible but whom I've warmed up to in recent years. As with 2010 and 2011 I’m starting the year off with a review of a flick starring Miss Kunis. No real good reason; it just seems like tradition at this point. Anyway the film is directed by Will Gluck who previously did the surprise hit Easy A as well as…um...Fired Up. So…yeah, this film has a 50/50 shot of being decent or being awful.

Full review after the jump.

[Warning: There are minor spoilers present in this review.  So take that in mind]

Alright!  High five, [sex] buddy!
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is the art director for a small internet company in L.A. He is dumped by his girlfriend for being emotional distant. Jamie (Kunis) is a recruiter for a job agency in New York City. She is dumped by her boyfriend for being emotionally damaged. The two meet when Jamie tries to woo Dylan into coming to work for GQ and move cross country. He does and they subsequently become very good friends very quickly. While hanging out one night, and both complaining about how much they miss sex, Dylan suggests that they become friends with benefits. Jamie agrees and the two promise not to let their friendship get weird. Predictably things get weird.

So I should point out that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of romantic comedies as a genre. That said I think the key to writing a good one is making sure that the two characters involved are both likable and interesting. They need to be people we want to see succeed and be happy and can ultimately stand to be around for two hours. If you mess that up you don’t have a film. Thankfully this is probably the movie’s biggest strength. Jamie and Dylan both come off like real people with their realistic flaws and funny quirks. Of course they’re played by Timberlake and Kunis meaning they’re both gorgeous and flawless in appearance which indeed isn’t very realistic but that’s Hollywood for you. Even so the casting choice in these two was pretty good. As I’ve said numerous time Timberlake is a great actor, despite all evidence to the contrary, and it’s nice to finally see him in an honest to god leading role. Kunis isn’t as strong an actor as her co-star (Her major weakness with emoting sincerely is present here) but she gets better every year and she takes mad advantage of this rare leading role. Both actors bring a lot of charm to their roles and greatly helped me find the characters of Jamie and Dylan to be fun people who I wanted to see more of, especially together as a couple. So in this way Friends with Benefits is a successful romantic comedy, so anything I have to say after this is not important to super fans of the genre.

The writing is pretty clever and surprisingly funny; two tings that I don’t get enough of in this type of movie. I would also say that the flick manages to make New York look really awesome. I was way more interested in moving to NY after this film than after watching, let Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist which felt like more like a “fantasyland” than anything else. Combined with the mentioned characters this all makes for an above average romantic comedy. Like with Love and Other Drug I think this movie greatly benefited from the R rating. Though if you’re one of those guys who were hoping beyond hope to see a naked Mila Kunis you’ll be out of luck here (Unless you’re a fan of body-doubles). Still the more “F-Bombs” you hear in a story about people sexing it up the more appropriate it feels, so that’s a plus.

Kunis, accusing you of being a pervert
The biggest flaw of the movie is that it’s a bit hypocritical. One of the major themes present (Or at least it felt like it was supposed to be a theme) is that life isn’t the fairytale that Hollywood movies depict. There’s even a “film within the film” cheesy movie that the characters watch that is supposed to be making fun of these types of typical romcoms. Except that ultimately Friends with Benefits is the same as the movies it mocks. If you've seen any other entry in this genre then you’ve pretty much already seen this one too, or at least you’ll know where all the beats are. Boy Meets Girl, Boy Accidentally Chases Girl Off, Boy Gets Girl Back, Big Kiss, The End. Now this isn’t as upsetting as it was when I saw Love and Other Drugs, mainly because the premise pretty much called this happening from the moment you see the title but it’s still kind of annoying to see a movie so self-aware of it's genre but then does the same cliché crap regardless.

Also Dylan and Jamie don’t send a lot of time with other friends. Their world feel very empty a lot of the time. Though they do have people to talk to (Jamie’s mom, Dylan’s co-worker) it still feels like they don’t have any other friends besides each other, which is clearly not the case.

Woody Harrelson also stars as Dylan's gay co-worker
I know he's gay because he mentions it every time he says anything
I really liked this movie. It was funny, it was sweet and I liked the cast; you can’t ask for more in a film of this genre. Yes it was cliché and there’s really nothing here I haven’t see before, but I’m a hopeless romantic and I liked what saw. Though they ultimately did the same thing every other movie of the type has done I do enjoy that the flick played with things a bit and was well aware of the various tropes associated with it. The strength of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ performance push this film over the edge form being a funny romantic comedy to being one of my favorite films of the year. If you like romcoms you’ll probably already have watched this film. If you don’t there’s nothing here to change your mind. But if you were on the fence about seeing it I recommend giving it a shot.

I give Friends with Benefits 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-Funny and charming

-The movie is well aware what type of movie it is


-Is still cliché regardless

-The world feels a bit empty

Alright so we know that I enjoyed this film but we still have to get through No Strings Attached. Come back within the next week to see if that film is able to keep up with this one.

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