Earlier this year, Ashton Kutcher and recent Oscar winner, Natalie Portman starred in a film about two friends who begin to have casual sex entitled No Strings Attached. The film itself received generally negative reviews despite its good cast and director (Ivan Reitman). Personally, I didn’t mind the film too much. It was a nice escape with some good jokes and likeable leads. Sure it was as cliché as it gets, but not every film can be The Deer Hunter, right?
Soon after I saw No Strings Attached, I heard of a film being released called Friends With Benefits. The premise was literally identical, and the female lead, Mila Kunis, co-starred with Natalie Portman earlier that year in Black Swan. I was, needless to say, quite skeptical. I didn’t let this get the best of me though, because the cast was equally as funny, if not more varied and interesting, than No Strings Attached.
Friends With Benefits follows two young professionals, Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis); one a successful internet blogger who is offered a job at GQ, the other is sent to recruit him. The two become very close friends over a short period of time. One day, Jamie claims, “I miss sex.” The rest is history. The two begin a strictly physical relationship with no emotions attached, which soon turn into something far different.
As much as I thought I wouldn’t like this movie, I’ll go ahead and admit that I really enjoyed it, a lot actually. With a more than 20% advantage on Rotten Tomatoes, Friends With Benefits actually deserves it. The two leads have way more chemistry than the stars of No Strings Attached. The story is very layered and involved, with just enough characterization to make you care, and possibly even cry. The supporting actors, which include Woody Harrelson, Bryan Greenberg, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, and even guest appearances by Emma Stone and Andy Samberg, all hold their own and give a lot of meaning to why Dylan and Jamie are why they are.
Dylan’s father, who’s known only as Mr. Harper (Richard Jenkins) has moderately severe Alzheimer’s that gets worse with age. He’s the type of character that we all know is going to say something insightful at the end of the movie that gives Dylan the courage to do what he has to do, blah, blah. Fact of the matter is, Richard Jenkins is funny as hell in everything he does, and he’s a fantastic actor. These are two things that are extremely useful in Hollywood, and he plays the role perfectly, as usual.
Directed and co-written by Will Gluck who you may recognize as the director of Easy A, has a good eye for scenery and makes sure to create an acceptable distinction between Los Angeles and New York, which may seem like an unnecessary detail, but honestly, you don’t know how many times I thought a movie takes place in the Upper East Side but it turns out I’m actually in downtown LA.
Friends With Benefits also has a knack for both employing cliché while simultaneously mocking it. While mocking cliché has now become a cliché, this Inception of clichés has led me to just give up and be entertained by the gimmick, which can be somewhat pervasive, but never tiring.
The film’s soundtrack is also something to note. It includes popular songs, but not the annoying ones that you hear on the radio every two seconds. They’re the popular songs that come on the radio once in a while and you’re actually happy to hear them. Example: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie.
If anything, Friends With Benefits is a great romantic comedy and an acceptable vehicle for both Timberlake and Kunis, who both have extremely bright futures in Hollywood. Despite being in the business since children, I feel like their careers have really started reaching their full potential only recently (yes I know, Kunis was on That 70’s Show, that doesn’t count). Also, besides its great leads, Friends With Benefits offers us three of the best cameos of the year, but I can’t tell you what they are. Also, miraculously, Friends With Benefits has somehow made “Hey Soul Sister” by Train a bearable song to listen to during a credits sequence.