Friends with Benefits Directed by: Will Gluck Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: July 22, 2011
PLOT: A man (Timberlake) and woman (Kunis) are too busy with life for love, so they attempt to be friends ... with benefits.
WHO'S IT FOR? Mainly, this is light and fun. Also, if you want to like romantic comedies more than you do, Friends with Benefits should do the trick. If you're looking for a good version of No Strings Attached you'll be happy.
EXPECTATIONS: An R-rating gave me a little more confidence. Watching Timberlake try to be funny in Bad Teacher made me nervous if he could find his comedic rhythm on the big screen.
Justin Timberlake as Dylan: Dylan is Brandon's best friend, and he's got the hots for Brandon's sister Brenda. Oh, wait, wrong Dylan ... Yes! Timberlake can act! In Bad Teacher it felt like he was performing, not acting. It was like he was pushing his character on the audience. With Dylan, you can relax and root for him. He's the art director for GQ. He's young, has money and looks like Timberlake. His problem isn't getting ladies, it's all the baggage that comes with. Timberlake is at his best here when he's delivering this direct, foul-mouthed script. There are occasional misses like an insane math deficiency and a stutter. Luckily, those only show up in little bits. Score: 8
Mila Kunis as Jamie: As a headhunter, she's good. As a friend, with benefits, she's amazing. There is a confidence with Jamie that is different than most romantic comedies. She knows she's damaged. She knows why she's damaged (for the most part). She embraces it during the majority of the film. That's rare for women in romantic comedies. Score: 8
Patricia Clarkson as Lorna: Hollywood is listening to me! After Easy A, I declared that Clarkson and Stanley Tucci need to be parents in every comedy with a young lead. Well, maybe just Easy A director Gluck (same as this flick) agrees that Clarkson should be the mom in every movie he does. Here, she's carefree to a fault and responsible for some of Jamie's baggage. Jamie is more of a mom than Lorna. It's uncomfortable to watch Lorna flirt with Dylan, but Clarkson makes it work. Score: 7
Woody Harrelson as Tommy: He's so gay. That's the joke and it's a good one. Tommy is confident and open about his sexual preferences. Eventually, and it takes a while, the joke starts to wear thin. Tommy has a boat in the film. Sure it eventually comes into play for the film, but I was mainly thinking Harrelson took the job if they promised him a boat. Score: 7
Rest of Cast: Richard Jenkins plays Dylan's dad. Luckily Jenkins is good enough to rise above the written material and deal with Alzheimer's without the melodrama. Jenna Elfman enters the conversation for "older sassy sister in a comedy" as Annie. She's in third behind Christina Applegate and Leslie Mann, but that's still a bronze. Plus, any chance you have to get Nolan Gould ("Modern Family") to play a little brother or nephew, you take it. Emma Stone, Andy Samberg, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones all show up to put a spin on romantic comedy clichés. Score: 7
TALKING: "I'll listen while you give me a hand job." How does that line sit with you? To me, this is good, funny, direct relationship talk that actually feels fresh. During the film, even Jamie comments on Dylan taking something pure like a flash mob and commercializing it. Score: 7
SIGHTS: The people and apartments all look cool. The physical gag involving the Hollywood sign and a sudden fear of heights wasn't a huge hit for me. Having Timberlake and Kunis nearly naked ... yeah, that is a huge hit. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Two "classics" have returned. "Closing Time" and "Jump Jump" are both back in a big way. The soundtrack is nostalgic without feeling forced. "How You Like Me Now" is still a good song, but in way too many movies. Death Cab for Cutie gets "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The first time Dylan and Jamie decide to have sex is a great showcase of fun dialogue that includes a tennis analogy.
ENDING: It's sweet. This is odd because the movie is attempting to make fun of your standard romantic comedy. They try to balance that out by playing the same song that was heard in the fake romantic comedy starring Segel and Jones.
QUESTIONS: Does this movie make Timberlake a leading man?
REWATCHABILITY: I'd easily sit on the couch and watch this one again with my wife.
Jerry Seinfeld nailed this topic of friend with benefits with Jerry and Elaine talking about "the this" and "the that." Friends with Benefits isn't new territory at all. What's most shocking is Gluck and his team of actors make it feel fresh. The story unfolds and it feels like Jamie and Dylan are actually working through issues with each other, but still able to maintain a friendship. They even take a break. Jamie has a new boyfriend. It feels like a journey. Yes, some of the conversation does feel like it has been said before, but then you realize how much better Friends with Benefits is doing its job compared to films like No Strings Attached.
The romantic comedy is a difficult beast. This film spends a lot of time pointing that out, and pointing out that we've grown up on romantic comedies and developed a warped sense of relationships. Our generation has been influenced by these fairy tale versions of romance and thinking it should be reality. It's a little weird when Friends with Benefits taps into some of these things (like a climax that involves running to the train station). Luckily, it keeps the funny going, with Timberlake and Kunis doing really fun work, so there are plenty of benefits.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10