Film Review “Friends with Benefits”

Starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Will Gluck
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 49 mins
Screen Gems

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

At first I thought this would be an easy review. Just go back to my review of this year’s earlier “No Strings Attached,” substitute some names, and head off to see “Captain America!” I was wrong. Though “Friends with Benefits” has a very similar plot line (attractive friends decide to just be sex partners with no emotional involvement) the films are very different. So I’ll put some effort into this one.

Dylan (a getting better every time I see him on screen Timberlake) runs a successful web site in Los Angeles. His work has caught the eye of GQ magazine, who want him to become the magazine’s art director. Having just been dumped by his girlfriend (Emma Stone) for being too distant he agrees to fly to New York City for an interview.

Jamie (Kunis who, after her award worthy work in last year’s “Black Swan” needs no further encouragement from me) is a head hunter in New York City. She’s just been dumped by her boyfriend (Andy Samberg), who feels she’s always looking for her prince charming. That he does it outside a retro theatre playing “Pretty Woman” pretty much confirms his thoughts. She is also the one who is bringing Dylan to the Big Apple to fill the GQ job. When he decides to take the job they become friends. And, after a quick discussion, friends with benefits.

You have to give credit to a romantic comedy that spends several moments making fun of romantic comedies! “Friends with Benefits” is a smart, funny film that gives new life to a very tried and true story. But it also has some of the problems that the film makes fun of. First the highlights…

The script, which is pretty funny during the “comedy” parts of the film. It took three different people to write it (four if you count an additional “story by” credit) and it reads like it. What sounds like a good idea to one may not be to another and, as someone who tries to be a good writer, it’s best to write alone whenever possible. However, any film that can make not one, but two, jokes at John Mayer’s expense (“he’s the Sheryl Crow of our generation”) deserves a little slack. The leads are terrific but there’s also great work turned in by Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman and a hilarious recurring cameo by Winter Sport expert Shaun White. In a more serious role, Richard Jenkins is his usual reliable self as Dylan’s dad. Now the lowlight…

The script, which pretty much stops the film dead in its tracks when the “romantic” part rears up. We learn that both of the leads have battled problems in their past but have persevered. Yet, when things begin to turn serious, they magically reappear. Suddenly Dylan can’t add 2 + 2 and stutters like Michael Palin in “A Fish Called Wanda” while Jamie’s “prince charming” desires return again, with predictable consequences. And it’s sad to see that Hollywood seems to have only one way to deal with “R” rated sex. Though the in-bed jokes are some of the films’ funniest, it’s almost guaranteed that, like most in this genre, the film will feature the same “boy kisses down girls body/girl kisses up boy’s body” shot that’s been a staple of “R” rated films since “Caddyshack.” No surprises here. Still, the good outweighs the bad. And the comedy outweighs the romance.

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