Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Comedy,Romance Movie Review of ‘Friends with Benefits’ (2011)

Movie Review of ‘Friends with Benefits’ (2011)

If Friends with Benefits sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it’s pretty much the exact same movie as 2011’s No Strings Attached. Both are R-rated studio comedies with a pair of bankable lead performers, and both are rom-coms concerning the concept of “fuck buddy” relationships. But Friends with Benefits is the superior movie; it’s brighter, funnier and more likeable than the earlier picture, and it stars two appealing lead actors who actually feel like best friends. Effervescently directed by Will Gluck, this is a surprisingly decent romantic comedy which is both entertaining and funny. Girls will enjoy the central romance of the picture, while guys will enjoy the presence of Mila Kunis and all of the sexual humour. In other words, it’s a rare type of date movie that’s not agonising for either gender.

Emotionally damaged following a harsh break-up, Los Angeles-native magazine art director Dylan (Timberlake) accepts a new position for a job in New York City. Faced with no friends in a strange city, Dylan begins spending time with Jamie (Kunis), the chirpy corporate head-hunter who recruited him. Also coming off a bad break-up, Jamie clicks wonderfully with Dylan, and they become fast friends. On a whim, the two soon begin a purely sexual relationship. Of course, the meaningless bedroom fun works for the pair until emotions and feelings start to enter the equation.

One of the greatest successes of Friends with Benefits is the dialogue. Rather than typical vanilla rom-com dialogue, the script is full of witty banter. In particular, the repartee between Dylan and Jamie is well-written, often funny, and engaging. Also refreshing about the film is the way that the characters mock typical rom-com clichés – at one stage, Dylan and Jamie view a fictional romantic comedy (starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones) that’s filled with every last trite genre staple, and the characters openly dissect the predictable nature of rom-coms while watching it. Of course, though, Friends with Benefits is guilty of succumbing to rom-com clichés in both its filmmaking (montages and upbeat pop songs) and structure (in fact the broad strokes are identical to No Strings Attached). While boldness is pretty much forbidden in studio-produced romantic comedies like this, it’s nevertheless a shame that the writers didn’t shake up the formula or attempt to do something audacious. A bit of daring writing would have been especially refreshing since the uncannily similar No Strings Attached was released just a few months prior.

Admittedly, romantic comedies are always clichéd to some degree, so what matters is the execution. In this respect, Friends with Benefits scores a passing grade. Armed with a directorial zing that one wouldn’t expect from the director of 2009’s woeful Fired Up, the film is for the most part fast-paced and disarmingly enjoyable, with a soundtrack of catchy songs developing a playful tone. However, some of the editing is a bit choppy and jarring, and the bubbly pacing does momentarily erode once the film hits its second half and the proverbial serious moments begin to kick in. In particular, there are scenes involving Dylan’s Alzheimer’s-suffering father (Jenkins) that feel awkward in such a light-hearted mainstream romantic comedy. Not to mention, the characters face these types of dramas while a conventional break-up-to-make-up scenario lies in the story’s peripheries. This stuff is present to build a sense of maturity, sure, but they aren’t handled with enough skill for them to emerge as anything but minor distractions that were thrown in because the formula demanded it.

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are a terrific on-screen couple, with their immense chemistry allowing you to genuinely believe that they’re best friends. However, Timberlake’s performance is not as strong as Kunis’, and his limitations as an actor do arise from time to time (which is odd considering Timberlake’s terrific efforts in The Social Network). Kunis, on the other hand, truly shines with a vivacious performance. Fortunately, the supporting cast is extraordinarily good. Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) is an utter scene-stealer as Tommy, and he scores several good laughs. Unfailing character actor Richard Jenkins (Dear John) is also terrific as Dylan’s father, while Jenna Elfman and Nolan Gould are both likeably down-to-earth as Dylan’s sister and nephew (respectively). Meanwhile, recognisable comedic performers Emma Stone (Easy A) and Andy Samberg (I Love You, Man) show up in mere cameo roles at the beginning, playing the exes of Dylan and Jamie (respectively).

Likable as hell and benefitting from a handful of really funny moments, Friends with Benefits is for the most part a romantic comedy done right. If you can overlook the predictable nature and a few draggy moments, there’s a great deal of entertainment to be unearthed here. And make sure you stay until the end of the credits for one last satirical jab at rom-coms.

7.0/10

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