Film Review: “Friends With Benefits”

by Jason LeRoy on July 22, 2011

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Nolan Gould, Bryan Greenberg, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone

written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck, Harley Peyton

directed by: Will Gluck

MPAA: rated R for sexual content and language.

Let’s get this out of the way: yes, Friends With Benefits is the second movie this year about two friends who try having a purely sexual relationship but find their arrangement complicated by a growing emotional connection (the first being No Strings Attached). It is the Armageddon to NSA‘s Deep Impact, the Volcano to its Dante’s Peak. But while NSA was a perfectly acceptable rom-com anchored by a solid Natalie Portman performance, it can’t help but seem stuffy and uncool in comparison to the heat-seeking missile that is Friends With Benefits.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is an LA-based art director for a massively successful website. Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a Manhattan-based corporate headhunter. In the film’s prologue, Dylan and Jamie are both broken up with by their shitty significant others (Emma Stone has an explosively funny cameo as Dylan’s soon-to-be ex). Dylan then meets Jamie when she headhunts him for an art director position at GQ. She flies him to NYC and takes him on a whirlwind tour of the city, after which he (of course) accepts the position and relocates.

Dylan and Jamie have immediate chemistry, both friendly and fuckly (not a word but I’m using it). At first they just hang out as buddies, still stinging from their recent breakups and not eager to return to to the drama and complexity of a relationship. But eventually Dylan suggests that they try having a no-strings-att–, er, a friends-with-benefits relationship. Jamie agrees, and the sex-doing begins. Everything seems to be running smoothly at first; they have great sex and enjoy hanging out as friends. But as their friendship deepens and they support each other through their respective parent dramas – Jamie’s mom (Patricia Clarkson) is an oversexed, irresponsible free spirit who never modeled stability for her; Dylan’s dad (Richard Jenkins) is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s – they can’t ignore the way their feelings for each other are evolving.

While it may sound formulaic and unspectacular, Friends With Benefits is actually one of the freshest, sharpest, funniest comedies of the summer. It is fast and witty, with mile-a-minute banter from its two remarkable leads. This is one of the ways Friends With Benefits outperforms NSA: when making a sexy comedy, it helps to have lead actors who are both sexy and comedic. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher were egregiously mismatched; despite the strength of Portman’s performance, she is too naturally poised and sophisticated for sex comedies. And she was stuck with Kutcher, who just really shouldn’t be in anything. Let him have his Two and A Half Men and only do that until he retires. Please.

On the other hand, Timberlake and Kunis are the living embodiments of the words “sexy comedy.” Each of them has sex appeal and comic timing on such staggering levels, it’s practically nuclear. The two of them together in this film is like a Three Mile Island of the hot funnies. Timberlake expertly demonstrates the impeccable comedic instincts that have made him so beloved on SNL. And I am happy to report that the Timberlake ass shots are generous and plentiful. Having eagerly awaited its unveiling for the last 13 years, I can giddily confirm that it is everything I could have hoped for and more.

Mila Kunis is also in the film. Cough. Just kidding. This is perhaps her finest big-screen comedic role yet. Her Jamie is a smart, hyper-driven, unapologetically strong character, and the film doesn’t force her to have any huge revelations about her career detracting from her personal life or any of that crap. She is a rom-com heroine for the next generation. The cast is rounded out by excellent supporting performances from Clarkson, Jenkins, and a riotous comedic turn from Woody Harrelson as GQ‘s gay, masculine, sexually aggressive sports editor (the character is a variation on Andy Samberg’s role in I Love You Man; I’m intrigued by the emergence of this new gay archetype).

This is the third film from director Will Gluck, officially confirming that his excellent high school comedy, Easy A, was no fluke. He knows how to craft a solidly fun, well-acted, thoroughly crowd-pleasing comedy, with editing (by Tia Nolan) that wrings the maximum potential from every last glance, gag, and zinger. Perhaps most remarkably, he knows how to make movies that feel authentically young and cool. His work lacks the stench of pandering so often found in studio comedies aimed at younger demographics. And while Friends With Benefits features two flash mob sequences too many – can’t we all agree that the flash mob moment has passed? – it is still far hipper and more exciting than any of its competition.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beauty February 17, 2012 at 8:32 am

From what I am told the director and producers or whoever picked the cast couldn’t have picked anyone better to play in this movie. Justin Timberlake is hot and so is Mila Kunis. I haven’t seen Friends with Benefits but from what my friend and even DISH co-workers have told me it is the best movie repeat of plot ever. I thought that No Strings attached what’s pretty good and they are saying this is way better?? I can’t wait now. I’m really happy that I rented it with Blockbuster @Home from DISH so that I can get in the mail any day now. How exciting I hope I get it by tomorrow. Thanks for the review!

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