FRIENDS WITH BENEFITSStarring Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake
Directed by Will Gluck
Let’s clear the air first: Friends with Benefits is the exact same premise as No Strings Attached, but instead of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as the attractive-but-damaged leads, here we have Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as friends who eschew the trappings of romance for the “less complicated” fuck buddy status.
Friends with Benefits is better than No Strings Attached (thanks in part to a cameo from Emma Stone who provides more laughs within Friends’ first five minutes than Strings did in its entirety), but that doesn’t make it great or even that good. It’s another rom-com disguised as edgy (because of all the loveless sex!) that operates under the guise of a self-awareness it doesn’t possess.
Jamie (Kunis) is the neurotic but lovable (of course) headhunter who recruits Dylan (Timberlake) to be the new art director at GQ. A fast friendship forms over the fact that they’ve both been told by crazy exes they’re emotionally unavailable. In a fit of meta humour at about the 30-minute mark, our star-crossed intendeds get drunk and watch a terrible romantic comedy (more cameos, this time from Jason Segal and Rashida Jones) and deconstruct the cheesiness of its emotionally manipulative music and bad dialogue. This leads to sex with one hard, fast rule: No falling in love. Oh, these crazy kids.
But Jamie’s toughness is really a veneer — she equates true love with being rescued by Prince Charming. Her mother, Patricia Clarkson — always a welcome presence, but in danger of being typecast as the kooky sage — advises her to “update her fairy tale,” but why bother when the film doesn’t? Director Will Gluck (Easy A) thinks he’s in on the joke, but his film succumbs to the very rom-com cliches the characters mock, as illustrated during the tumble-y, wordless montage set to the swell of sweet indie-pop as Jamie and Dylan graduate from “just sex” to “making love.”
Kunis and Timberlake are naturally funny and likable in their roles. They deserve a comedy that doesn’t buckle to Hollywood’s weird moral agenda: if the leads’ genitals touch, they have to fall in love. Unfortunately, the stubborn commitment to traditional values softens Friends’ bite.