Friends with Benefits Directed by: Will Gluck Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins Rating: R Release Date: July 22, 2011
PLOT: New friends Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) attempt to have a sexual relationship while sharing only platonic feelings for one another.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Friends with Benefits might be best enjoyed by hip folk who love Katherine Heigl comedies but wonder why they don't have as much sex as an American Pie movie.
“F**k you, Katherine Heigl!”
Friends with Benefits begins by saying what all real romantics have been shouting in movie theaters and at TV screens for years. It becomes your friend at first. Even its pure vulgarity during intimate, no-holds-barred intimate scenes make the movie to feel truly amicable. All with the intent of giving Hollywood’s lying Katherine Heigls and Kate Hudsons a run for their pride, and with an investment of honesty that aims to connect with its target audience.
The Ugly Truth, however, is that while the movie may be wise enough to point out clichés in romantic comedies, (although the gripes are old hat), Friends with Benefits isn’t smart enough to avoid them. Like that polarizing Arthur remake from this year, which overdosed on ooey-gooey romance, Friends with Benefits features an elaborate, dreamy scene in New York City’s Grand Central Station (you know, the ones that happen in the movies, and never in real life). I will give it to Friends with Benefits though, instead of having the two end their relationship at an airport, they first meet there instead. In another switch-up, the couples’ sex life is first priority to the story, and then the romantic element takes up the same amount.
There’s something literal about the usage of “friends,” and then casting Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as leads. While “Sidekicks with Benefits” may not have the same ring, it has the same meaning of "friends" – neither Kunis nor Timberlake have been at the top of multi-million dollar movie. Instead, they might have been in two Oscar-cherished movies (Black Swan and The Social Network) but their presence was overshadowed by lead performances that were simply better than them.
Here, with the story giving them full attention, neither of the two are able to lay their grounds as a demanding lead, or really, prove to us that they can steer an entire movie with just the two of them. Without considering their quick delivery of their raunchy dialogue, the duo don’t have really credible comedic timing, or particularly irresistible chemistry.
Director Will Gluck makes up for his lead's lack of unique spunk by putting them into high-paced montages that reduce the amount they each need to keep a joke going, while sandwiching such moments with its beefy soundtrack selection. This technique works as the speediness in these segments improves the movie's laugh ratio by simply offering more gags.
Richard Jenkins appears in this movie as Timberlake’s father, an older man who was never happy with the ultimate romantic choice he made; one that suffers from the horror of “letting her get away.” On top of that, Jenkins’ tenderly heartbreaking character has Alzheimer’s, which puts the man into a couple of moments that are both awkward for the movie and the audience. In another movie, Jenkins’ performance wouldn’t be wasteful, and the placement of such a character wouldn’t feel so unnecessary. There’s little reason as to why the character has to have that condition; we are sorrowful enough that he’s been romantically unhappy for at least a couple of decades.
Signing allegiance to the romantic comedy standards that it originally defied with such intent in the beginning, Friends With Benefits has the soundtrack of any movie like it. Death Cab for Cutie’s solo acoustic song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is used at least twice during the movie’s bummer moments, as joined by some sap’s acoustic cover of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” The movie’s more fun moments are accompanied by music by Bruno Mars and Kriss Kross, and even “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf gets its 3,434th appearance in a movie soundtrack. Semisonic’s “Closing Time” makes a retro appearance as the relationship’s anthem.
Like the ugly art of "friends with benefits," this ode at first feels like a fresh, invigorating idea. It eventually collapses into something that's not very special, and even more misleading to its original intent, less fun.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10