Theatrical Review: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

by: Gwen Reyes
July 22nd, 2011

Writers: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson
Studio: Screen Gems

If Hollywood is to be believed, sex and love go together like brownies and nuts - they are delicious on their own but when combined they make something magical. You can overdose on nutty brownies, for sure, but unless you’re allergic or completely tasteless, the combination is irresistible. Even the most jaded can get absorbed in a well-crafted romantic comedy or swept away by an emotional melodrama. As formulaic as Hollywood films may be, they still have an audience and the best ones can sway non-believers to their side.

Last year, the release of GOING THE DISTANCE and EASY A breathed new life into Katherine Heigl’s tainted rom-com kingdom. While neither film received noteworthy numbers at the box office, both offered something we hadn’t seen prominently in mainstream comedies - couples talking frankly about sex and love within Hollywood’s constructs. Director Will Gluck’s follow-up to EASY A pushes those talks a bit farther, as his newest feature, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, focuses on a best friends interested in sex and nothing more. This arrangement is nothing new in the real world, but it is a scenario often shied away from in films.

Mila Kunis plays Jamie, an emotionally damaged young woman so determined to keep from repeating the same love mistakes as her hippie-dippy mother (played with subtle force by Patricia Clarkson) that she refuses to lower her expectations of potential partners. Until she meets her soon-to-be-friend-with-benefits Dylan (Justin Timberlake), she holds all her boyfriends up to the standards of the romantic comedies she watches. She believes in fantastical love, but in a deep way doesn’t believe she deserves it.

On the other hand, Dylan doesn’t let anyone close to him for fear that he will be left feeling something icky. He jumps ship when it’s hard, and it worked for him until the charming and adorable Jamie comes into his life. Dylan loves her friendship and her lady pocket. Their arrangement is perfect and unlike February’s NO STRINGS ATTACHED, no one catches feelings whilst boning and tries to convince the unsure partner to change her mind. Their sex is uncomplicated and hot, and when the sex stops they can still honestly remain friends.

Of course, Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) are going to end up together in the end, but what makes the ride fun is their undeniable chemistry and unpeeling the layers of emotional trouble lurking under the surface of both characters. Kunis shines as the fast-talking wet dream of a woman Jamie, while Timberlake, in his prime hotness, is slow to get his footing in the more dramatic scenes. He has strong comedic timing and obvious sex appeal, but he often struggles with emoting more than happy, sad, or sexy. But, what he lacks in acting ability he sure makes up for in abs. So, ladies, there’s that.

This week’s release of FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS may have the misfortune of being one of a handful of films released in the last year that have tried to remake the traditional romantic comedy. While its characters announce from the beginning their strong disdain for Hollywood’s fabricated fantasy, we know, deep down, they really want it. Just like many of us, in the depths of our souls, want it. Hollywood is nothing if not clever and knows exactly how to manipulate even the most zombie hearts.

Rating: B-

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