Summer Movie Guide 2011

Review: Friends With Benefits

Friday, July 22 by
 

Friends with Benefits is good enough that you won’t mind taking a date to it, though if you’ve had more than three dates I’d recommend you suggest staying in and renting No Strings Attached. Then you’ll be comfortable, laughing, a little sexy and who knows what could happen? Yeah, baby.

Fs with Bs seems to take a different stylistic approach to the exact same movie. Strings was more of a drama with jokes in it, and it’s actually shockingly good at that. So if Friends delivered a snappy, quirky farce it would distinguish itself. Ultimately, it becomes the typical Hollywood comedy that tries to get serious in the end, but that’s not heart. That’s cheap.

'Friends With Benefits' Red Band: More Casual F***ing

Mila Kunis seems like the coolest girl ever and that goes a long way. Jamie (Kunis) is a headhunter who woos Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to a New York job at GQ. The material lets her change character on a dime as she adjusts her sales pitch and messes with Ryan. Once he moves to New York, they hang out and Jamie continues to push his buttons.

Personally, I wouldn’t like a friend to be that inconsistent. Dylan just messes with her right back. I personally prefer to be nice to my friends in real life. For a movie though, it provides lots of snappy banter. When Dylan and Jamie try the casual sex arrangement, the montage (sextage?) plays it as a joke. The ticklish chin, the socks staying on, the oral errors, it’s all having fun, not taking the endeavor or its ramifications seriously.

7 photosMila Kunis

That dynamic remains strong when Dylan and Jamie actually start dating other people in front of each other. You think you’re cool with it? We’ll see how cool with it you are. Timberlake is as likeable as he is on SNL, self-deprecating his singing and math skills.

Then they introduce Dylan’s family and it’s “insert drama here.” His father (Richard Jenkins) has Alzheimer’s. Now Jamie’s mom (Patricia Clarkson) has already been introduced as a wacky irresponsible drunk. It’s not cute but at least it’s consistent with the tone. Playing the Alzheimer’s card, and Jenkins acting the hell out of it, is just frankly a dick move. Yeah, we get that Dylan and Jamie have family issues. You can’t be the heartwarming Alzheimer’s movie after the abrasive humor of the first half.

Also Dylan’s nephew is the precocious kid from Modern Family (Nolan Gould) who does botched magic tricks. Then there’s a part where Jamie overhears Dylan saying something about her. No Strings actually had smart characters protecting themselves and speaking up. When that couple split up, it was because Ashton Kutcher’s character knew Natalie Portman’s was going to hurt him. Yeah, it was about 20 minutes before the finale, but I was proud of the character for making the tough choice.

Friends promises to be smart about romantic comedies by making fun of their clichés, even having a fake rom-com within the rom-com. Yet this has just as much pop music as Dylan makes fun of, and ends with a romantic stunt cleverly foreshadowed in the first act. I guess you can’t just have a casually funny movie without it bringing up all sorts of issues. Come on, don’t be this obvious!