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Movie Review: ‘Friends With Benefits’

July 22, 2011

Let me preface this review by revealing that I loathe the “romantic comedy” genre. I know, I am a chick, thus the duties of reviewing said genre fall squarely on my dainty (in my fantasy world) shoulders.  But I don’t subscribe to the typical female proclivity for swooning at the bequest of any given film marketed to my gender. I trudged into the screening or Friends With Benefits, prepared to scribe my notes with a poison pen, certain that the offering in front of me would be dismal at best.

Egg->face->me. Every time I am certain that something will suck, I find myself pleasantly surprised. Is this a great movie? Certainly not, but it is much more enjoyable than I anticipated.  A very solid cast elevates the movie above an average script, and I found the film rather refreshing, seeing that we have been bombarded by a slew of “R” rated comedies/romantic comedies/raunchy romps this summer.

After a truly disappointing turn in Bad Teacher, Justin Timberlake is back in his comfort zone, and Mila Kunis is so stinking cute you can’t help but fall in love with her. The twosome has some great comedic and sexual chemistry, and it is great fun to watch. Pop culture enthusiasts will recall that the scenario of the film is nothing new. Jerry and Elaine attempted the same thing way back in 1991, on a Seinfeld episode entitled “The Deal”. Take two adult friends, add sex without complications, and complications are sure to ensue. It’s an “R” rated spin on the old adage that men and women cannot just be friends.

Kunis is a head hunter (Jamie) in New York who is trying to place Californian Dylan (Justin Timberlake) with a position as art director for GQ Magazine. After convincing him to relocate to her city, the two become fast friends.  Since they have both been recently burned in relationships, they decide to essentially become sex partners and of course their tidy arrangement gets mired down with pesky feelings.

The film takes a somewhat fresh spin on the romantic comedy genre because the two principals spend much of their time deconstructing the usual romantic comedy tropes. A movie within the movie featuring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones is rife with everything I hate about the genre. Initially it is a clever gimmick to have a film make fun of the entire genre, but eventually it falls victim to the same clichés. I’ll still give it props for the attempt, though.

Patricia Clarkson plays Jamie’s loopy, free-spirited mother, and Richard Jenkins has a brief, but devastating turn as Dylan’s Alzheimer addled father. It’s not an essential role for the movie, but damned if I will condemn an appearance by Jenkins. He classes up whatever he appears in. Jenna Elfman plays Dylan’s sister, and Woody Harrelson is solid as the sports editor at GQ. Director Will Gluck (Easy A) continues to deliver quality comedy with Friends.

More so than most films of late, Friends With Benefits really tries to emphasize the digital age we live in. There are lots of references to texting, iPhone apps, iPads, flash mobs and the like. You could construe this as a feeble attempt at being hip, but this is our reality now. In keeping with the other films of the summer, this one has a decidedly raunchy tone, but there is precious little nudity save for some butt shots of Kunis and Timberlake. Bottom line, I didn’t love the film, but I liked it, and that was a lot more than I was expecting.

Rating 3.5/5



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