While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.
Year 2, Film #9
THE REVIEW: Back in February I watched No Strings Attached and hated it. I was also aware that many others expressed similar sentiments and that Friends with Benefits, which was only released six months after No Strings Attached was supposed to be much better. Having now seen both films the choice between the two is clear: Friends with Benefits. Not only is it funnier, much funnier, but the romantic half of the romantic-comedy is also better as well.
Right off the bat, I have to praise the film’s referential and self-referential nature. My track-record on these types of films is pretty clear (Seven Psychopaths, Easy A – also directed by Will Gluck, Rango, and Wreck-It Ralph just to name a few) but there’s something about making references that I find highly entertaining. A large part of that has to be because I personally enjoy making references to other media constantly (even if my friends and family find it annoying at times) but another part is because, when done right, I think it’s naturally funny. It breaks down the barriers and gets rid of all the bullshit. A great film is able to transport you to a whole other world, whether it’s physically on another planet or still on Earth, and get you lost in it. But at the end of the day, it’s still just a film and at some point you’ll have to leave that world. Whenever you get a film like Friends with Benefits that not only references other films (in this case fictional films created specifically for Friends with Benefits) but also talks about what it’s doing as a film, it forgoes any illusion. You are aware at all times that you’re watching a film; there’s no pretense, no false build-up to a cheesy message, just an honest and open path from beginning to end. And that’s most certainly the case here. Sure there’s still a message that comes through at the end, there’s still clichéd moments, and there are semi-stereotypical characters. But all of this is acknowledge by the characters themselves and therefore goes from some tricky tool the movie tries to use, to just a tool – no tricks, no lies, just entertainment.
The story part – the romantic half if you will – did feel a bit forced but it was still effective. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) meet for the first time in New York City because Jamie chose Dylan to be the new art director for GQ magazine. They go from just professional acquaintances to friends to friends with benefits. This progression is, as the title should suggest, the main focus of the film for a good chunk of it and proceeds very well. There are lots of laughs and plenty of great character moments as well. It’s only when that latter half of the film comes into play and the transition to the “they-have-to-be-more-than-friends-now” stage that things fall apart a little. We meet both Dylan and Jamie’s families. For Jamie, it’s just her mother (Patricia Clarkson) and for Dylan it’s his father (Richard Jenkins), his sister (Jenna Elfman), and nephew (Nolan Gould). The most impactful and life-changing part about the families has to be Dylan’s father who has Alzheimer’s. All of it is well-done and gets the message – when you find the right person you do everything you can – across, but it goes away from that self-aware, no-bullshit stance. It becomes that romantic-comedy that they make fun of and while the irony is funny, the rest of the film shows that they’re better than traditions. Friends with Benefits could have, and should have, continued that spirit throughout to make something unique, but instead settles for something just below that.
Between Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached there’s a clear choice: Friends with Benefits. There’s none of that horrible, unfunny dialogue and the acting from Timberlake and Kunis is Oscar-worthy compared to Kutcher and Portman. But it’s not just better than that one film, compared to the romantic-comedy genre as a whole it holds up pretty well. Though not completely original and standout (compared with a film like Crazy, Stupid, Love.), Friends with Benefits still delivers on laughs and entertainment and is definitely worth a watch at some point.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5