Review: Friends With Benefits
PLOT: When Dylan is convinced to take a job working for GQ, thanks to a friendly and attractive headhunter named Jamie, he packs up from California and moves to the East Coast. Once he settles in New York, he and Jamie strike up a friendship. Not wanting to commit to a romantic relationship, the two decide to get involved sexually, without any of the strings attached to romance. Can they make it work? Well, if it is Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, they can sure make beautiful music together.
Mila Kunis is one of the most endearing comedic talents to grace the silver screen in years. Unlike many romcom favorites, Mila offers viewers something just a little different. She has more fire than Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts combined. Sure she can be vulnerable but she can also be wicked and sexy even. In FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, Mila made it easy to forget about the title character, and now in FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, she continues to prove that it wasn’t a onetime deal.
Now let’s get to the movie itself. FWB is something of a surprise, especially considering the comparisons it will most assuredly get to NO STRINGS ATTACHED. And while Strings had its moments, it failed to really feel fresh and relevant aside from a winning supporting cast. Yet with FWB, there is something absolutely genuine in this R-rated relationship flick. Writer/director Will Gluck brings much of the charm he added to EASY A and creates a very charismatic pairing between f*ck buddies Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis). FWB may be predictable, yet it pokes away at the misconception of Hollywood’s happy ever after, even while playing into that very same concept.
Jamie is a Headhunter who helps land a graphic designer a job working for GQ in New York. The two hit it off instantly, and things are ever so swell. A friendship blooms, but nothing else as each of them has recently suffered a terrible break-up (the ex’s are a couple of inspired cameos). As they clearly like each other, neither wants to ruin the relationship with any kind of commitment, even if the physical attraction is obvious. They soon decide to take their friendship a step further, as long as it is strictly sex and nothing more. Well we all know that nothing is that simple, especially when it comes to desire.
One thing that really stands out for FWB is the story and how naturally the two main characters connect. It never feels forced or strictly motivated to keep the story moving. It helps that the idea of a romantic comedy is often scoffed at Dylan and Jamie, especially when the two are watching a “typical Hollywood romcom” (the faux film within-a-film contains another set of inspired cameos). Whether it is palm trees in New York, or dreadful dialogue, both Dylan and Jamie seem much too smart to fall into that trap. A false promise of romance and true love forever and ever is just pure fantasy, yet it still somehow fills a hopeful heart.
FWB also features a wonderful supporting cast. This includes Danny’s father (Richard Jenkins) and his sister Annie (Jenna Elfman). Jenkin’s portrayal of an old man with Alzheimer’s and the effects it has on his family is near heartbreaking at times. On the other side of the coin, Patricia Clarkson is downright infectious as Jamie’s irresponsible mother. Woody Harrelson also gives a scene-stealing performance as Dylan's gay co-worker. Trust me when I say he is terrific in the role. While the supporting characters run from the audacious to the touching, they offer a glimpse into the person that both Jamie and Dylan have become. Even when they tread on overt sentimentality, somehow the script revives itself and brings us back into the humor. In other words, these are people worth spending a little time with and their story is funny, sexy and even a little poignant.
While FWB may not re-invent the wheel when it comes to romance, it accepts that and finds a way to laugh at how generic romance can be on-screen. The performances are great, especially Kunis, Jenkins, Harrelson and Clarkson, and Gluck keeps it grounded. Not too many flights of fancy here, just a fresh look at the complexity of sex with friends.