Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Film review: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Will Gluck, 2011)


Mila Kunis plays Jamie, a New York head-hunter who brings Justin Timberlake’s chilled California boy Dylan, an extremely talented art director to GQ. Both have just been dumped and both are extremely photogenic people, so it’s not long before they’re offering each other’s bodies to each other for pleasure. 

What they perceived to be a no strings, win-win relationship, however, is soon complicated when emotion and personal baggage gets involved. Jamie, a romantic at heart, wants the fairy-tale happy ending, and Dylan, the realist, knows that no such thing exists. As such, both seem to have a revulsion for romantic comedies, and indeed, half of Friends with Benefits is spent dissing other romantic comedies. So it goes without saying, then, that Friends with Benefits fits quite comfortably in the rom-com genre.

The film is a surprisingly slick affair given the genre, with pretty cinematography and a script that is shamelessly one-track. Kunis and Timberlake are more than just pretty faces, and Mila Kunis brings that cute neuroticness that has served her well as Family Guy’s long-suffering Meg (not to mention as my fifth fave girlcrush) to her character, whereas, without damning Timberlake with faint praise, his acting here comfortably eclipses that of his in The Social Network

There is an amusing cameo by Emma Stone at the start as the girlfriend dumping Dylan’s sorry ass and Patricia Clarkson emulates more of that bohemian, laid-back parent she played as (funnily enough) Emma Stone’s mother in Easy A as Jamie’s hippy mom here (although, given Will Gluck directed Easy A, that kinda makes sense...). 

Richard Jenkins’ mature turn as Dylan’s father suffering from Alzheimer’s gives the film some emotional grounding and Woody Harrelson clearly has the time of his life as Dylan’s gay co-worker who occasionally offers the odd gem of advice.
So the cast do their job capably, and the scenes in which the eponymous “benefits” are given don’t skimp on skin either, which is refreshingly open of the director (literally ;) ) given that the mass-audience of sexy romantic comedies are PG-13s and thus incredibly limited in the amount they can show. So far, so sexy, so smooth, so slick. But the main area where the film fails is that it spends so long ripping apart the whole concept of romantic comedy, just to end up as one itself, we as the audience can’t help feeling, as the two protagonists themselves might argue, “used and cheap”. 

I have absolutely nothing with romantic comedies, in fact, my #3 favourite film of 2011 so far, Bridesmaids, and my second favourite film of 2011, The Inbetweeners Movie is (arguably) another one. But where Bridesmaids gave us a fully-rounded, interesting lead female who genuinely does stand at risk of throwing away the cute guy, I felt all the obstacles in Friends with Benefits were incredibly superficial, and thus, there was never any risk that the ending would be anything other than Kunis and Timberlake sharing a smooch. 

The first half the film has so much promise with its witty banter and repartee that when the film decides to take the easy way out and tries to have its cakeand eat it, we feel seriously let down, regardless of the film being oh-so-on-the-nose about what it's doing.

Give me the more wholesome laughs of Easy A any day of the week.

Grade: C

1 comment:

Joanne said...

Sorry too slick/sickly for me but thanks for letting me avoid this pulp!

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