Published on August 9th, 2011 | by willok1
Movie Review: Friends with Benefits
When you think through the plots of any number of romantic comedies, they largely involve one or both parties keeping secrets or some false pretence, going to questionable lengths to maintain their lies, only for things to unfurl in the last act. Sometimes lessons are learned but there can be no denying that the leads are actually very unlikeable with both romance and comedy largely missing in action. What sets ‘Friends with Benefits’ apart from the melee is that it introduces us to two likeable, self-aware characters which immediately gets your buy-in, delivering a refreshing, enjoyable movie.
The main duo, Dylan and Jamie, as played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, do live in beautiful expansive apartments in New York and their lives are full of both product placements and New World dilemmas as you might see in any other paint by numbers rom-com. However the backgrounds to the characters, their personalities, their charm and insecurities, are thought through and serve both comedic and dramatic ends in an engaging way rather than just being flat filler. Of course this sound launching pad could be squandered were there poor leads. Thankfully the performances from Kunis and Timberlake are winning. The movie swings from crude humour, to romance, to angst, but throughout it is grounded in their performances and their chemistry. With Timberlake, there is still a niggling sense of him trespassing into areas where he is not permitted. He is who he is, but in this writer’s view Timberlake showed promise as far back as ‘Alpha Dog’ in 2006 and through a steady selection of supporting roles since then he has graduated to the stature of a viable romantic lead. In ‘Friends with Benefits’ he has a lot to do; his character is starring in a movie about a move to a new city, a new job, a testing family situation and deciphering a complicated girl and successfully tackles it all. Kunis plays a great Lois Lane combo of fierce but flawed, her gravelly tones and nymph-like stature let her be believably goofy, professional and sexy all at once. The combined power of the pair is full of spark even despite their businesslike approach to all the benefits part of their friendship and the resulting mechanical approach to sex. On the sex, there is lots; every post-cinema conversation will remark on the amount of nudity in the movie; but why not let this story of adults looking to hook-up and not cuddle after, be shown as just that.
The cast of characters is filled out by a great supporting cast, including the always watchable Richard Jenkins. There can often be a supporting role that plays for laughs and steals the show; Woody Harrelson’s small role as a work colleague of Dylan being the obvious example. Here though, he is part of a well-constructed ensemble that help to create a real story and add credibility to the lives of the central duo. The movie is full of quality touches; its mix of humour and realist attitudes work well, and New York always plays a great supporting character in any movie. The characters are living in a technology and media soaked surround and this is used to great effect for gags and moments to move the story forward. So too, this allows the movie go slightly post-modern and dissect the romantic comedies that inform their (and our) romantic aspirations. At one point Kunis’ character Jamie, screams at a poster for a Katherine Heigl movie for misleading her on how romance works and throughout the movie struggles with a lust and loathing for the idea of a Prince Charming. This is not to suggest that the genre is upturned as if Charlie Kauffman got his mits on it, but the movie is self-aware and keeps up pace and charm almost consistently (there is a slightly muddled lull towards the end) so that it is never in danger of falling on its own sword.