A fun, if forgettable, take on the usual romcom tropes
Published: July 20, 2011
Friends with Benefits
Directed by Will Gluck
Opens on July 22
After three sequels, two green comic-book heroes, and a whole bunch of penguins, Hollywood rounds out its mid-summer releases with director Will Gluck’s romcom Friends With Benefits. While the film is essentially a reimagining of When Harry Met Sally—and, you know, every other romantic comedy ever made—witty dialogue and cameos keep the film fun (not to mention frequently undressed stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis).
Jamie (Kunis) is a tough-talking New York headhunter who, despite a history of failed relationships, believes in fairy-tale love. Dylan (Timberlake), a Los Angeles arts director with a similar romantic past, is recruited by Jamie to work at GQ. The two form a quick friendship after Dylan moves to New York, and one drunken night decide that Hollywood cliches and Katherine Heigl movies have it wrong—sometimes it’s really just about sex. And, with this cliched denouncement of clich?s, two very good-looking actors strip down and the movie really begins.
Let’s face the elephant in the movie theater: Earlier this year, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher starred in the same movie, No Strings Attached. But Friends is a different animal. While Strings celebrated sex between two good-looking people who (predictable spoiler) end up together, Friends actually spends time developing the characters and their relationship.
As Jamie and Dylan become closer friends and lovers, they are exposed to each other’s lives. Jamie’s mother, Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), is a leftover from the ’70s friends-with-benefits-only era who can’t remember the exact nationality of Jamie’s father. Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins) has Alzheimer’s disease, but embarrassed, Dylan cannot face reality or open up to his sister (Jenna Elfman). A few scenes take a turn for the worst as Timberlake scrunches his nose and attempts to tear up, but fortunately these moments are rare. The classic romantic-comedy routine necessitates the melodrama of boy losing girl, but the film really shines when boy and girl are getting it on and bickering pleasantly.
Woody Harrelson counteracts the unfortunate dramatic moments with his usual quirkiness as Tommy, the overtly gay sports editor who befriends Dylan and seems to be his only male friend in New York. But Harrelson puts a twist on the usual best-guy-friend role, serving as funnyman to Timberlake’s literal straight man. There’s nothing better than watching both actors hold back laughter as Harrelson gently strokes Timberlake’s chin stubble. Aside from physical comedy, Harrelson delivers some of the film’s most quotable lines, imparting fabulous girlfriend wisdom to Dylan followed by absurd and fantastic one-line reminders that despite loving women, Tommy will always be “strictly dickly.”
Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, and others make brief guest appearances, but the best cameo by far is Shaun White, who tumbles in, luscious red locks first, as himself and displays great comedic timing or, perhaps, borderline insanity. Still, the number of cameos and the general organization of the movie feel a bit choppy, and the lack of cohesion is felt between the film’s stars as well. Kunis is a bubble of energy while Timberlake struggles to, well, do anything except crack jokes. What the two lack in chemistry, however, they make up for by groping each other rather enthusiastically. While there is no frontal nudity by either party and the sex is always under the sheets, plenty of skin is on display as they spend large swaths of the movie lounging around in underwear. And they look damn fine doing it.
Despite Friends’ meta preoccupation with dismissing the romcom genre as predictable and unrealistic, it follows all the generic twists and turns. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable, albeit forgettable, experience that girlfriends will fantasize about and boyfriends will sleep through.
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