Friends With Benefits

Review: “Friends With Benefits”

Last year director Will Gluck took on the teen-comedy genre with the very self-aware, very charming and very funny movie “Easy A.”

With a snappy script and an excellent cast Gluck was able to insert wit and depth into a class of movie not typically known for either.

Gluck has now set his sights on the romantic comedy by applying this same formula to the new movie “Friends With Benefits” and the results are almost as successful.

I say “almost” because there are some shortcomings to the movie, but I can’t lay the blame at the feet of anyone on the cast and crew.

Instead, the very clichéd conventions the movie is commenting on are still essential to the extremely familiar plot. So familiar in fact, that the exact same premise of two friends making a failed attempt at a relationship based entirely on casual sex has already appeared in 2011 in the passably bland Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman flick “No Strings Attached.”

So as much as I want to praise “Friends With Benefits” for its originality; boy and girl still “meet cute,” boy and girl still fall for each other, circumstances still conspire to keep boy and girl apart until the final scene where boy and girl come together to live happily ever after.

Of course without all these elements the movie would cease to be a romantic comedy and then any commentary on the genre would become moot. Curse you Catch 22s!

Anyway, our boy and girl this time around are Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis who have an undeniable spunky/sexy chemistry.

Timberlake plays Dylan, a website editor from L.A. who is lured to New York by headhunter Jamie (as played by Kunis) to interview for a job to become editor of GQ magazine. Dylan lands the job, the two become friends and before you know it we are off to the races with the “casual sex” plotline and all the predictable twits and turns that follow.

Fortunately for us though, not only are our leads extremely likeable, they deftly deliver the zippy dialogue scribed by Gluck and co-writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman.

Also there to inject life into the script at every corner is an exceptional supporting cast of scene stealers. Patricia Clarkson plays a more emotionally damaged version of her maternally spacey role in “Easy A” as Jamie’s hippy-drippy mother.

We have a Jenna Elfman sighting as Dylan’s sweet and funny older sister who lives back in L.A. with their Alzheimer’s riddled father played by the always-brilliant Richard Jenkins. It is a scientific fact that the mere appearance of Jenkins makes any movie 63% better.

Then there is Woody Harrelson who would have stolen the movie if he were only given more screen time, as Tommy the boisterous, homosexual, sports editor at GQ. Timberlake deserves a lot of credit for wisely stepping back and letting Harrelson upstage him in their scenes together.

In actuality, it’s the restraint of the entire movie that winds up elevating it. While the subject matter is certainly adults-only “Friends With Benefits” doesn’t go for easy laughs with any big gross-out moments or outrageously uncomfortable situations.

Romantic comedies are perennially successful at the box office mainly because of the comfort of familiarity. People will never stop enjoying watching attractive people fall in love and because of that it is very easy for filmmakers to get away with being lazy and unoriginal.

There is nothing lazy at all about “Friends With Benefits” and while it’s not exactly blazing any new ground it at least deserves some credit for nudging the genre even just a tiny bit outside of its comfort zone.

“Friends With Benefits” is rated R for sexual content and language.


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