Cert: TBA Runtime: 108 minsDirector: Will Gluck Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson
Bananas in the refrigerator? What are you, Puerto Rican?
The start of 2011 brought us No Strings Attatched starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher,so what would make Friends with Benefits any different to any other rom-com movie ? I thought I would give it a go and see if there is anything worth rooting for. The plot is very simple, Jamie young female headhunter (Mila Kunis) in New York convinces a potential recruit Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to leave his job in San Francisco behind and accept a job in the big apple for GQ magazine. Despite an attraction to each other, both realize they’re everything they’ve been running from in a relationship and decide to become friends…with benefits. It’s the perfect arrangement–until they realize there’s no such thing as no strings attached. That is all you can really say about this plot as there isn’t much more else to it.
Rather surprisingly, the first half of Friends with Benefits is a ridiculously raunchy sex comedy that is sweeter than it is crude. The dialogue and one-liners drop at a steady pace, and there is plenty of laugh out loud moments. I was genuinely surprised at just how much I was enjoying the film, and how well co-writer/director Will Gluck helped capture the tropes and stereotypes of romantic comedies, and went entirely against them. The scene that starts the initial sexual antics is a complete dissection of the genre, and seeing the film twist and turn around the familiar plot devices was wonderful to see. It made the film feel hilarious, but also made it feel like it was attempting to do something different at the same time. Adding in a couple of random cameos from notable actors was a bit wacky (which the trailers have ruined slightly), but helped add to the humour.
The film comes to a screeching halt just about halfway in when Jamie and Dylan come to the all too obvious realization that they may want something more. The film then becomes drastically more dramatic, a lot less sweet, and significantly more ordinary. Even the laughs suffer, landing less with a snicker and more with a groan. Everything it does to shift itself away from the romantic comedy genre feels wasted because it falls into all of the stereotypes quicker than it poked fun at them. It almost feels like they wanted to desperately feel different, and then decided to just go the safer route as opposed to sticking with its offbeat early tactics. I was really enjoying the film significantly more than I imagined, but suddenly felt bored and totally thrown off by the drastic tonal shift.
Timberlake seems to have a lot of trouble carrying the film. We know he has the chops to command the screen and be absolutely magnetic (we have David Fincher and The Social Network to thank for that), but here he seems to be struggling with every other scene. He lands most of his jokes well, does decently with the dramatic bits and has plenty of chemistry with Kunis, but he lacks the spark I think most people will expect him to have in this role. He comes off as just okay, and more amateur than anything else. He would have been better suited in the film as a key supporting player, as opposed to the lead.Kunis on the other hand, is significantly stronger and proves that her turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall may have been an early suggestion of the formidable comedic talent she may quickly become. Gluck is not able to achieve the same level of breakthrough that he got from Emma Stone in Easy A from Kunis, but she manages to carry the film almost single handedly. Even at the script’s weakest moments, she grins and pushes forward, never once appearing to be struggling as much as Timberlake does.Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins both deliver good performances, but sadly feel like they are just plagiarizing from characters they have played better in the past. But it is Woody Harrelson who steals the entire show as gay sports writer Tommy. He plays the character ridiculously over-the-top, but never feels like he is encroaching on any stereotypes. He makes it his own, and is almost too good in the role. He gets all of the film’s best dialogue quips, and runs circles around everyone on screen.
In the end, Friends with Benefits is both surprisingly well done and unsurprisingly ordinary. It tries so hard initially to be the anti- romantic comedy, and then just ends up falling into the same predictable elements that every other film in the genre has already done countless times before. The film is genuinely hilarious when it wants to be however, and this does esave it from being a total waste. But it could have been so much more. 6.5/10