Friends with Benefits film review

From Will Gluck, the director of Easy A (my review), comes the second twentysomething casual sex comedy of 2011, following on from No Strings Attached (my review). Gluck’s new light-hearted romance, entitled Friends with Benefits, is the more consistently entertaining of the two releases thanks to its zippiness and generally unlaboured nature. However, in the end, Friends with Benefits is happy to embrace romantic comedy conventions, and in fact the whole project never attempts to add anything new to the genre mix apart from some social media and tech-related gimmicks. (Have you ever wished for a movie comedy where a flash mob and Bible iPad app feature prominently? Well, here you go!)

In a nutshell, Friends with Benefits is engaging and entertaining enough – as well as having enough saucy edge to set it apart from, say, a typically desexualised Kate Hudson romcom. This said, Friends with Benefits’ insistence in sticking to formula means that for all the chuckles and good feeling it provokes, you’ll have mostly forgotten about it within a few days.

Plot-wise, Friends with Benefits centres on happily single Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who is convinced by recruiter Jamie (Mila Kunis) to relocate from Los Angeles to New York for the position of GQ art director. Although Jamie and Dylan’s relationship is purely professional at first, Jamie takes it upon herself to help Dylan settle in, and these two surprisingly atomised individuals soon become fast friends and sounding boards. Then, one drunken evening while dissecting supremely cheesy romantic comedies, the couple decide to introduce casual sex to their friendship. Cue the expected complications – although no pouty jealousies, thank goodness – and a very typical resolution.

Friends with Benefits is unquestionably fun – an entertaining little package all around. It helps that Timberlake and Kunis make a far more convincing couple than Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached, largely because the leads here aren’t positioned as an odd couple. Dylan and Jamie are pretty similar; vibrant and playful, and frankly the best scenes involve them dicking around (not literally) with each other. Although their apartments are typical Hollywood fantasy, their dialogue sits on that fine line between being amusingly witty and obviously, and overbearingly, stylised. And it’s worth noting at this point that Friends with Benefits is a chiefly dialogue-driven film, as opposed to relying of physical goofiness and gross-out for its laughs.

It also doesn’t hurt the film that it has a stellar supporting cast backing up the 2 likeable leads. Richard Jenkins claims the film’s most poignant role while Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson both have fun playing against type, as free spirits loud and proud about their deviation from the social norm.

The problem with Friends with Benefits though, is that the film goes from comfortable to clunky once it introduces the inevitable complication that forces Dylan and Jamie to evaluate their relationship. All the breeziness is sucked from the film and in the rush – and it definitely feels rushed – to reach resolution, some grating issues become more obvious to the viewer. Like the repeated insistence that Kunis’s character is emotionally damaged or standoffish, even though there’s no evidence of it in the film. And the fact that Dylan’s tirade is pretty vicious, and not something that you’d easily forgive.

So, yeah, Friends with Benefits starts a lot stronger than it ends. Still though, as far as fluff goes, the film is substantially better than most other romantic comedies these days, and refreshingly it’s a sex comedy that doesn’t have to resort to overt crassness. I think as far as a date night movies go, Friends with Benefits is a safe option that should *ahem* go down well with girls and guys alike. Especially if they are of the same generation as the leads.


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