Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: 'Friends With Benefits' Becomes The Average Rom-Com It Tries Hard To Avoid

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist July 21, 2011 at 5:52AM

Yes, there is another movie that "Friends with Benefits," the new R-rated rom-com starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, closely resembles. As seemingly endless articles, rants, and cleverly edited YouTube videos can attest, both the plot (about a pair of young, emotionally distant urban professionals looking for physical satisfaction over romantic completion) is strikingly similar to Ivan Reitman's lame duck comedy "No Strings Attached" (which opened earlier this year and, like 'Friends,' even sports a "Black Swan" ballerina in Natalie Portman). But in a weird way "Friends with Benefits" is reminiscent of another, entirely different movie – Wes Craven's "Scream."
3


Yes, there is another movie that "Friends with Benefits," the new R-rated rom-com starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, closely resembles. As seemingly endless articles, rants, and cleverly edited YouTube videos can attest, both the plot (about a pair of young, emotionally distant urban professionals looking for physical satisfaction over romantic completion) is strikingly similar to Ivan Reitman's lame duck comedy "No Strings Attached" (which opened earlier this year and, like 'Friends,' even sports a "Black Swan" ballerina in Natalie Portman). But in a weird way "Friends with Benefits" is reminiscent of another, entirely different movie – Wes Craven's "Scream."

Early in the movie, the two ridiculously handsome leads are sitting on a couch, watching a sappy movie-within-a-movie (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones). They snappily pick it apart – the dramatic musical score meant to signal emotional reactions in the audience; the audacious Los Angeles-for-New York filming; even the phony uplift of layering a peppy pop song over the closing credits – and it's smart, barbed stuff. For a while, at least, the movie seems to set out accomplishing was the original "Scream" did – send up the genre through deconstruction (while dutifully paying homage) and create something new. It's just that, when all is said and done, "Friends with Benefits," while far from being the forgettable mush that "No Strings Attached" was, ends up playing into the same clichés and stereotypes that the movies it's trying to send up established.


The movie begins cleverly enough, with director Will Gluck (of "Easy A" fame), crosscutting between a pair of doomed romances. In L.A., Justin Timberlake's graphic designer is running hopelessly late for a date with his fiery girlfriend (Emma Stone) at a John Mayer concert, with his tardiness causing them to miss the singer's signature tune "Your Body Is a Wonderland" (Stone's outrage is priceless). In New York, Mila Kunis, as a feisty headhunter, waits patiently for her drippy boyfriend (Andy Samberg) to meet her for a revival screening of romantic comedy hallmark "Pretty Woman." Both interactions end in disaster – Kunis is dumped by Samberg (partially because "her eyes are really big"), while Stone cuts the cord with Timberlake due to his insensitivity and chronic workaholic tendencies.

Jump forward a few months and Kunis is aggressively courting Timberlake for a position at GQ and succeeds in getting him to fly out to New York. In her quest to secure him in the position, she takes him out to see the sights, and not the "touristy bullshit" – stuff like witnessing a flash mob or staring at the stars from the roof of a skyscraper. It's cutesy, get-to-know you basics, but unlike "No Strings Attached" -- in which Portman seemed to be less in love with her co-star Ashton Kutcher, more than she was interested in closely studying him for further anthropologic study -- Timberlake and Kunis have real, instantly identifiable chemistry.

After he takes the job and agrees to move to big bad New York City (after expressing fears that he would "shit the bed"), he and Kunis strike up a friendship. He comes over for one of her parties (you can tell this is a Sony movie because instead of playing Wii they all rock the Playstation Move – viva synergy!) and soon enough they're hanging out solo and engaging in the aforementioned film theory. They decide to become "friends with benefits" – i.e. they'll only have sex without any of the messy emotions.

For a while the movie hums along – there's a fairly funny montage of the couple getting it on, directing each other on their desired sexual positions, etc. – but that can only go on for so long and Gluck and his co-writers Keith A. and David Merryman aren't content in having the movie simply be an affably goofy lark. So for the final act of the film, which is primarily about the prioritization of pleasure over complicated drama, some huge missteps occur and throw out the delicate tonal balancing act that a movie like this really needs to keep its eye on.

Primarily, there's Richard Jenkins. He's dynamite in whatever he does – whether or not he's the serial killer under the thrall of a prepubescent vampire in "Let Me In" or even the sketchy wingman in "Hall Pass" – but here he's saddled with a character that has been noticeably absent from the trailers and TV spots, playing Justin Timberlake's father, who is terminally ill with Alzheimer's. The whole scenario plays like a sitcom's "very special episode" that no one really wanted. Kunis, too, is given emotional baggage courtesy of her hippie dippy mother played by Patricia Clarkson, who actually utters the phrase "twat block."

So the zingy comedy becomes messily maudlin, and stuff meant to be gingerly heart-tugging, like when Jenkins makes a scene at a restaurant, is butted up against jokes about Scientology (weird, since noted Hubbard disciple Jenna Elfman is in the cast), Timberlake's poor math skills, and Woody Harrelson as a pervy homosexual GQ sports writer. The delicate balancing act between comedy and drama, and between entry in the genre and genuine subversion, crumble entirely and "Friends with Benefits," more and more, looks like what it set up to undo.

The final act, in particular, makes clear that the film will never ascend its station in the romantic comedy ghetto – it's overlong, features misunderstandings and a hyperbolic reconciliation, and its resolution seems flimsily unsound. Despite its R-rating and stated desire to test the boundaries of the genre, the naughtiest stuff we see are butt cheeks. And one thing it does stick to is its lack of musical score (mocked in that earlier scene), which unfortunately leaves the sonic backbone of the movie to be comprised of sometimes poorly chosen modern pop songs. In the end, there are still some things to like about "Friends with Benefits," particularly the numerous jokes about Kunis' questionable ethnic heritage, but since it openly states it wishes to be more than just an average romantic comedy, when that's all it ends up being, it feels like an even bigger disappointment. [C+]

This article is related to: Review, Films, Friends With Benefits


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates