This past weekend, "Friends with Benefits," starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, opened to perhaps a smaller tally than the studio would have wanted, in part because of its striking similarity to January's infinitely dopier "No Strings Attached." Though bearing a similarity in their premise, writer/director Will Gluck's "Friends with Benefits" is the fizzier, funnier and more enjoyable film and it’s a shame that just because it's opening later means people are leaving it behind. We spoke to Will Gluck over the weekend about the comparisons to "No Strings Attached," his approach to the raunchy comedy in which no naughty bits are shown and one risque joke that may have offended a member of the cast.
1. Yes, He's Seen "No Strings Attached."
"Yes, I have seen it. I liked it. I have no ill will towards them. To me, it's not that I shake my fist at 'No Strings Attached.' I shake my fist at people who think it's the same movie. When you walk past a steak restaurant you don't go, 'Awww another steak restaurant? How could they have another steak restaurant here? It's absurd!' You might go there and the steak might be different," Gluck said about the competing film that his theaters earlier this year.
However, it's the online community that Gluck blames for making the superficial comparison between the movies without giving the film a shot. "People get very angry for crazy things in this world. And people also are very, very, very excited when they're the first person to point out something that's incredibly obvious. If you take Twitter and take out all the genius on there that say, 'Friends With Benefits' looks exactly like 'No Strings Attached' – or is it just me? HASHTAG DUH' I always want to go find those people and say, 'Wow, you cracked the code! The NSA wants to talk to you about some nuclear secrets.' "
2. He Didn't Pretend This Was The First Romantic Comedy Ever.
He had a simple rule for his approach for the material, elaborated by a sequence in the film where the two leads casually dissect the essence and stereotypes of romantic comedies. "I wanted to do an old fashioned romantic comedy for a new generation. In order to do that, these movies have clichés. So I wanted to point out to the audience that these characters knew they were going through a clichéd story, but just like we all live cliché stories," he said. "We break up, we fall in love – our lives are cliché stories. It's only in movies that they have alien movies jumping off rocks and shooting banana guns. In life, it's pretty much normal stuff. I just wanted the characters to give the audience a sigh of relief."
The biggest mistake, in Gluck's opinion, are romantic comedies that don't acknowledge that there have been thousands of movies before them. "I just wanted the characters to understand and know that they weren't the first boy and girl to fall in love." And more than that, that they fall in love in a world besieged by romantic comedies. "A lot of these movies now -- they drop in, they live in a pop cultural bubble, and they feel like they're the first couple to ever fall in love. They're Adam and Eve – ooh, I wonder what's going to happen! In real life, when a guy and a girl first get together, they say, 'Well, this is going to end badly.' I just wanted it to be much more current and referential. I didn't want to feel like we were putting on a play."
3. Will Gluck Isn't A Fan Of Big Event Summer Movies.
With the glut of comic book movies and special effects razzle dazzle, Gluck is delivering something that he'd pay to go see at the multiplex. "I'd rather see a movie of something that I go through, like falling in love, than a tights-wearing superhero jumping off a rock yelling things. In my life, I don't see cars changing into things or people holding swords," he said.
4. Will Gluck Feels The Film's Dramatic Tonal Shifts Is Representative Of Real Life.
One of the things that have thrown people off about "Friends With Benefits" is the abrupt swing towards the dramatic that the film takes in the third act, when Justin Timberlake's Alzheimer's-afflicted father (played by Richard Jenkins) enters a movie that until that point had playing its hand as a raunchy comedy. Gluck doesn't seem phased. "I like playing with that. I like funny and then something really emotional happens. It makes me laugh when I read some of the reviews (which have largely been positive) and they say, 'It's all funny and then a crazy Alzheimer plots gets thrown in.' " he said adding, "That's life to me!"
When we asked if he'd ever move in the opposite direction and do a straight drama, he teased, "I think I'll do both. But even when I do more dramatic stuff there will still be funny elements in it. This movie came from a funny place that had dramatic elements but very soon I'll probably do a dramatic movie that has elements of comedy." Then he added: "And there'll be a superhero with a sword and a vest."
When we suggested that there also be a robot transforming into a car, he made a correction: "Not transforming, morphing. Mine will be called 'Morphers,' although apparently Ivan Reitman made a similar movie earlier this year."
5. Jenna Elfman Didn't Know About The Scientology Joke.
One of the more striking moments in the film is a joke that Justin Timberlake makes about Scientology. The joke is pretty hilarious, but what gives it an added edge is that Jenna Elfman, an outspoken Scientologist, is part of the cast (though not part of the scene). "The way I work, I change the script a lot. While we're shooting I'll yell out – try this, try that," Gluck told us about his process.
"We shot it once and then we left it in," he says of the Scientology joke. "But I feel really bad because I didn't tell Jenna about it and then I forgot. It wasn't until we screened the movie for her that she found out about it. I felt really bad. It's not making fun of any religion's belief system, it's just making fun or organized religion. I take shots at all organized religions in my movies. I just feel bad about that."
6. The Lack Of Skin Was A Conscious Choice.
Compared to many of the raunchy R-rated comedies this summer, "Friends with Benefits" is relatively chaste (keep in mind that in "The Change Up" Ryan Reynolds fingers the butthole of an aging porn star) with not much more than shot of Mila Kunis' rear (substituted by a butt double). Gluck said that was a big decision, in order to keep the comedic elements afloat. "Here's the thing – all of the sex scenes in this movie are supposed to be very funny, or at least they're supposed to be. To me there's two parts of your brain – there's one that gets titillated by pornography and another part of your brain that laughs for comedy. So I don't think that you can play both at the same time. It's an either/or. Our decision was – have enough skin that it's real but play the comedy of it."