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Old 07-21-2011, 06:05 PM
Will Gluck's Friends with Benefits

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

Friends with Benefits (2011)

Just last year, director Will Gluck gave us the surprisingly hilarious comedy “Easy A.” Now he sets his sights on the conventional romantic-comedy with “Friends with Benefits” that revolves around two friends using each other as sex partners and nothing more. There have already been those comparing this to another similar film from not that long ago, “No Strings Attached.” Now I never did end up seeing that film, but if it was anything like this, then that’s most likely a good thing.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake), an art director for a website, has recently come to New York in an attempt to land a job at GQ with the help of “head hunter” Jamie (Mila Kunis). These two have recently gotten out of relationships that weren’t going particularly well, and seeing as how Dylan doesn’t know anyone else in New York, the two end up spending a lot of time together.

As they get to know each other, they get around to talking candidly about how they don’t want emotions to get in the way of their next relationship, which is where the idea of just having sex with each other without a relationship pops into their heads. This all seems fine at first for these two, but as expected, it becomes hard to keep the emotions separate from a purely physical relationship. Eventually Jamie comes to feel that there just might be something more to it than she had originally thought.

“Friends with Benefits” is a film that tries to mock the conventional clichés that we’ve come to see in several romantic-comedies over the years. Unfortunately, while trying to take a jab at the clichés, it ends up falling victim to all of the big ones throughout its runtime. This is a film that you could easily line up with the all-too-familiar formula that writers refuse to give up.

First off, we have a couple that meet up randomly. Dylan and Jamie meet at a New York airport in a strange sort of way (she’s atop a luggage carousel trying to retrieve a sign with Dylan’s name on it). They hit it off rather well and slowly start to get to know each other. It’s obvious that there’s something there, but of course the characters themselves don’t realize this until much later.

When it finally gets to that point, there’s the standard random event/misunderstanding/stupid move by one of the characters (in this case, it’s the third option) that ends up breaking the two up, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not the two will ever get back together again. Well, it leaves those who have never seen a romantic-comedy in their entire life wondering whether or not the two will ever get back together again. Then we wait for the characters to realize their silly mistakes and finally get back together. I still long for the day when a writer will dare to think of something new to do with this genre.

Then there’s the problem of the premise. It’s semi-interesting, but it doesn’t support its runtime, even by a longshot. It becomes predictable far too early because you know that their emotions are going to get in the way sooner or later. With its incredibly predictable nature, we end up with a film that feels incredibly long at 109 minutes. It doesn’t help either that the film is not particularly funny. It even feels the need to sink down to Sandler humor (the lowest form) for a scene, but luckily it’s one scene only. There’s something worth a small smile every now and again, but nothing in the way of laugh-out-loud moments.

Timberlake and Kunis are not without their charm and presence. Last year, Timberlake delivered a memorable performance in “The Social Network” while Kunis did the same in “Black Swan.” Here, they have a little chemistry, but it never felt as though they truly connected. Even with their talents, they could carry the cliché-heavy screenplay only so far. Perhaps this is just one of those projects that looked a whole lot better on paper, though the clichés should have still been blatantly apparent.

In the end, this is just another forgettable by-the-numbers romantic-comedy that ends up going nowhere unexpected. If it had tried to be a little funnier, or had stayed away from the same old formula we’ve seen a million times before, perhaps it could have been salvaged. The charm of the leads can only get the movie so far. Unfortunately for “Friends with Benefits,” it’s just about the only thing it has going for it. 2/4 stars.
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