Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

Director: Will Gluck

***

The notion of ‘friends with benefits’ must be a fantasy. It certainly must be if you’re anywhere near as attractive as either of the leads of Friends With Benefits. If you were Justin Timberlake or Mila Kunis, surely you wouldn’t need that kind of friend. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned one-night-stand? Or an actual relationship? Or is this critic out of touch with modern sexual mores? (That last question’s rhetorical, don’t answer it!)

When Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis), two young and attractive NY professionals, decide to become bosom buddies, they aim to defeat the sensibilities of romantic entanglements learned from umpteen romantic comedies. Clearly, Kunis’s character didn’t see her Black Swan co-star Natalie Portman in the similar (ok, the same) No Strings Attached. They’re doomed to fall in love! Their physical relationship starts off well, as director Will Gluck (Easy A) shows off as much of his stars’ toned bodies as he can. The first half of the film is the best, between Dylan and Jamie’s hilariously sexy antics and the reactions of those near to them, including Jamie’s mother (Patricia Clarkson, horny as heck) and Dylan’s gay co-worker (Woody Harrelson, laugh machine). However, as the film bleeds into its second hour, it succumbs to the ‘does-he, doesn’t-he’ mechanics that it initially aimed to overcome. Dylan and Jamie go to visit the former’s family (including Jenna Elfman and Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins), and the complexities of their relationship are sorely tested. Despite this, there are no surprises. You know the ending.

Predictability, however, is not enough to sink the good ship Benefits. There’s plenty of sass in the dialogue and banter flows freely. It also helps that there’s a game cast at Gluck’s command. Harrelson, Clarkson and Easy A star Emma Stone raise chuckles, but this film is dependent on two charismatic and compatible leads. Timberlake and Kunis’ chemistry is absolute dynamite, and just about makes up for the smugness of an inevitable outcome. For a film being sold on the edgy raunchiness of its premise, Friends With Benefits frequently borders on the bland. It may be charming, but it sure ain’t challenging.

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