'Friends with Benefits' (dir: Will Gluck, 2011) Cert: 15
One Year, Two Swans, Two Sex Comedies - in February, audiences were presented with 'No Strings Attached'; the more "light-hearted" entry from Natalie Portman who was currently riding off her Oscar fame from 'Black Swan', now in September, her 'Swan' buddy Mila Kunis is starring in a particularly similar feature about sexual relationships with a friend rather than a lover. With a strong cast and a fine comedic director/co-writer at it's helm, high hopes are weighted on this 'risqué' Rom-Com, but does it succeed or merely stumble back to mediocrity like many-a-Hollywood romance?
Dylan (Justin Timberlake), a successful blog runner from Los Angeles is head-hunted by GQ Magazine for an art director position in New York. Jamie (Mila Kunis) is the company's head-hunter and is asked to collect him from the airport and show him around the state. Soon Dylan takes the job and he becomes close friends with Jamie. The pair are recently singled and are fed up with the dating scene. After a few weeks and a few beers, the pair decide to have casual sex - no emotion, no complication, no attachment. The pair's 'relationship' grows and grows but soon they realise they might want just a little bit more than sex.
It's so hard to get excited about American Rom-Coms because they so frequently disappoint; many are constantly formulaic, unoriginal, uninteresting and poorly executed. Although it's wrong to judge an entire sub-genre based upon previous experiences, it's extremely tough not to. But when one does come along and decides to stand up to the mundane it certainly strikes a chord - and 'Friends with Benefits' is that picture.
In comparison with the rival swan's entry, 'Friends with Benefits' runs rings around 'No Strings Attached' highlighting what a dull and miserable affair it is - in fact, this film beats it's 'sexy' rival in every department.
Narratively, this film is predictable much like any other Hollywood entry, but it isn't gooey or obsessive, it isn't swooning or over-dramatic; it is something much different - slightly realistic. There are some scenes with 'Flashmobs' (groups of people randomly dancing together in public) that bring back the cinematic feel to the film but the realism does not lie in the film's setting or construction, it lies in the pitch-perfect scripting and the fantastic execution from Timberlake and Kunis.
|Still from 'Friends with Benefits' (dir: Will Gluck, 2011)|
The pair's friendship is believable, plausible, and most importantly likeable; these are two individuals who you want to get to know, who you want to understand and who you want to succeed. Whilst watching, viewers aren't thinking "That's the bloke from N*Sync getting some from Meg from 'Family Guy'!", they are wrapped up in the characters and their on-screen developments thus making us buy into their world. We are watching chapters in Dylan and Jamie's lives unfold, not it's stars.
Gluck's script is laced with witty pop-culture references, prods to his previous masterwork 'Easy A' (which featured in my top 10 films of 2010) and gimmicks about the 'traditional' Hollywood romance with a comic faux movie starring Jason Segal which plays throughout the film's duration. 'Friends with Benefits' is frequently funny with some moments that are genuinely side-splitting - whether that be some of the cringe-worthy sex moments, the hilarious banter or the scenes of complete stupidity.
But as well as being riotous amusing, the film is often touching and is able to take the viewer back by it's emotional force. Dylan's father, played by the brilliant Richard Jenkins is at the fore-front of the emotional tyrant with his moving portrayal of an Alzheimer's sufferer. However there isn't enough 'tough-stuff' to make 'Friends with Benefits' gain Drama as a sub-genre because after a brief encounter with your feelings, it forces the belly laughs from you once again keeping the comedy constant and primary.
All the performances are of great standard; Timberlake has proven his abilities in 'The Social Network' and 'Alphadog' and I believe he has taken his first 'proper' leading role and ran with it. He thrives with the gags, shows skill with the emotional content and is able to carry his weight of the film. I'm certainly a fan of his acting and this film has increased my interest.
Kunis is wonderful and brings a genuine, affectionate and sassy performance to the screen. She's ridiculously beautiful but her looks are completely secondary to her acting accomplishments. She makes Jamie seem like an actually decent person which makes us feel the same way towards the star portraying the character. Woody Harrelson makes frequent and hilarious appearances as Tommy; GQ's homosexual Sport editor who cracks jokes about New Jersey, woman and the likelihood of Dylan's heterosexuality. It's clear to see Harrelson is just taking it easy for a bit and enjoying playing a brief but bizarre character and he delivers the goods.
Patricia Clarkson pops up occasionally too as Jamie's mother Lorna; a woman with a rather deviant past with men which she hopes hasn't reflected on her daughter. Clarkson was fabulous in Gluck's 'Easy A' and it was great to see her here too. Also professional Snowboarder Shaun White is in a few scenes which is a little odd to say the least but hey...
It is going to be difficult for the masses to fully restore hope in American Rom-Coms but 'Friends with Benefits' has certainly eased the pain and has proven that it's possible to achieve. It may be a little formulaic and foreseen, but ultimately this is the all-around strongest and most engaging Hollywood Comedy release of 2011 and I believe it's one of the year's best movies. Take your partner, take your friends, take anyone (as long as they are over 15 obviously...) and enjoy 109 minutes of giggling bliss.
Sexy, feel-good and incredibly impressive - 'Friends with Benefits' is the laugh-out-loud movie to beat. It's 2011's 'Easy A'; there I said it...
By Chris Haydon