Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake shed their clothes more often than you might expect in this new rom/com called Friends With Benefits from Director Will Gluck. It’s fast paced, it’s frothy, it’s funny, and yet is underwhelming.
The bennies of this friendship are casual sex repeated as often as necessary. With lots of time between the sheets as the ideal end result of this friendship.
Timberlake is a LA based web designer, and Kunis is a Manhattan based corporate head hunter who recruits him for an Art Director’s job at GQ magazine in New York. Each of them has just gone through a relationship break-up. In fact, the film opens in such a way, during the respective break-ups, which are run pre-credits, that for a moment or three you ask yourself, Is this right? Are they running the wrong reel?
So Timberlake’s Dylan and Mila Kunis as Jamie meet at the airport. He’s a little lukewarm about the job, about leaving LA, about living in New York – yadda yadda. But he aces the interview, and a few hours later, early that same evening, Kunis has an offer from GQ that’s been emailed to her that is waiting for him to accept it. So to convince him, she takes him on a whirlwind Manhattan tour, and bingo! He falls in love with New York, accepts the offer, and in what seems like seconds – he’s moving into a swanky NY high-rise apartment.
Friendship immediately blossoms, they open up to each other, they discover that neither is any good in relationships, each have no desire to get that involved again, and they sort of make fun of a relationship movie they watch on TV. That’s what has been set up – a rom/com that makes fun of rom/coms.
But this is what leads to the film’s issues. It goes from making fun of rom/coms to utilizing all the tried and true rom/com clichés that appear on-screen at least once every quarter. It uses every one of the most well-known plot devices known to mankind for this type of film. Boy meets girl, they hit it off, they get close, issues arise, they split up, and just when things look their dimmest and darkest – it’s all going to work out in the end. They’re going to get back together, and the sun will come up tomorrow.
That’s it kids, no surprises, no new angles, and no deviations from any film school’s rom-com 101 in the latter part of the film.
Justin Timberlake does a fine job. He’s good-looking, he’s rather deft in delivering some funny lines, and he’s good in bed – he says. His naked tush gets screen time as well. But he’s not quite a match for Mila Kunis’s Jamie.
She carries the film – from beginning to end. I mean she’s so good, that seemingly it didn’t matter who was cast opposite her. She can play sexy or funny. She’s high energy, and when things don’t go the way she wants, she does a superb job showing disappointment.
Other notable performances in supporting roles come from Woody Harrelson as the way-over-the-top gay sports editor at GQ. He puts moves on anything in pants including Timberlake’s Dylan. Jenna Elfman plays Dylan’s older sister who lives in Malibu. She’s sweet, she’s centered, and she knows her brother. Richard Jenkins plays Dylan’s Dad whose lucidity comes and goes because he has Alzheimer’s. Harrelson is screamingly funny, Elfman is sensible, sweet, and loving. Jenkins as the dad gives the film a character that you should be sympathetic towards – but he has heart and goodness in him and it doesn’t get maudlin when he’s on the screen.
To counter these three there were three other characters who seemingly were tossed in simply for moving the plot along ( or bringing it to a few head-scratching halts). These were characters but came off as the human versions of filler. Shaun White was the first – he showed up three times as a larger than life skate boarder. Each time he appeared he threatened Dylan with physical harm or he threatened him then said just kidding.
Jamie’s Mom – played by Patricia Clarkson. She played a ditzy Mom, who has been with so many men that she’s no longer sure which of them is actually Jamie’s father. While at times she did dispense some neat ‘Advice from Mom’ – she was a bit too overdrawn. Watch what she does when she first meets Dylan who barely has enough time to pull on his pants after a hot session with Jamie.
The last character that needed to be deep-sixed, was an interim lover taken by Jamie. She was able to apply her 5 Date Rule – but on the 5th date her walls came down. Only afterwards, this guy pulled a sneak out.
Summary – Not as good as I’d hoped for. High energy – the talk is non-stop even in bed. One might say the pace was almost too fast. Nice Manhattan locations. Funny situations – but not nearly as many laugh-out-loud lines necessary to call this one a howling success. I’ll settle in with a B- rating – for the record, normally I don’t do ratings.