Friends with Benefits (2011)

26 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Friends With Benefits” is the title of a romantic comedy featuring exactly what the title suggests—a man and woman who are friends but also sexual partners with no plans of a loving relationship. (I think Jane Lynch put it best in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”—the easiest term is “*bleep*-buddy.”) But “Friends With Benefits,” despite its title, is not the first movie to show us this relationship. It hasn’t even been a year since “Love and Other Drugs” and “No Strings Attached” were released, featuring the same “friends with benefits” element. There really isn’t anything new in “Friends With Benefits”—it’s a romantic comedy in which the two leads start out as friends, have sex repeatedly, realize they have feelings for each other, have certain complications in dealing with those emotions, and (spoiler alert) they end up together. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. In fact, I really liked “Friends With Benefits.” It uses rom-com formulas, but has fun with them in a self-referential way.

One of the reasons for the success behind “Friends With Benefits” is the pairing of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as the two leads. These two are impossible to dislike—they’re appealing individually and engaging together. They’re not mismatched in the slightest, their characters are well-developed, and they never annoy the audience.

Describing the plot is somewhat pointless, but it’s probably best to mention a few things. Timberlake plays Dylan, a Los Angeles-based editor of a popular blog, who is recruited for a job in New York working for GQ Magazine. Kunis plays Jamie, a headhunter who flew Dylan there and shows him around the city. Soon, Dylan and Jamie become good friends, but are also attracted to each other physically. So they agree to become friends without romance—“No relationship,” Jamie explains, “No emotions, just sex.”

Of course, this works for a while. Of course, they start to fall for one another. Of course, they don’t know how to handle this. Of course—well, you get it, mainly. You know the formula; it’s been done before. But what makes “Friends With Benefits” worth watching is not only the convincing chemistry and charm between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, but also its self-aware screenplay. There are a lot of funny lines of dialogue (mostly involving the leads picking apart some romantic comedy clichés) and some running gags (some including references to rapper-duo Kriss Kross) that work. This movie is quite funny in a dopey but consistently smart way.

The supporting cast is also game and funny. Jenna Elfman has some funny lines as Dylan’s knowing, sassy sister; Patricia Clarkson is hilarious as Jamie’s wisecracking mother; Richard Jenkins doesn’t overdo it with his character of Dylan’s father, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; there are welcome cameos by Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, and the pairing of Jason Segel & Rashida Jones (whose rom-com-within-a-rom-com that the characters watch is hilarious); and there’s also a young actor named Nolan Gould who has his share of funny moments as Dylan’s aspiring magician nephew. I know I should have already mentioned Woody Harrelson as a gay sports editor who constantly comes on to Dylan, but to be honest…I never found him very funny in this. He just came across as obnoxious.

So even if “Friends With Benefits” is mostly predictable, it makes up for it with two charming lead actors, an engaging supporting cast, and a winning screenplay. It’s easy to like “Friends With Benefits” and not feel embarrassed by saying so.

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