“Whatever Happens, We Stay Friends. Swear?”

Movie Review: Friends with Benefits (2011)
Summary: A magazine editor and the girl who landed him the job begin a sex-only relationship.
Spoilers: none

Friends with Benefits comes to us not even a year after No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman—another film on friends of the opposite sex choosing to have sex without a relationship.

To my surprise, the latter film cannot be called a carbon copy knock-off of the other, but each being graded on how well they project their stories, this one is the clear winner (despite both getting the same grade). Not only is the acting better and the chemistry stronger between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake than Kutcher and Portman, but part devotion is noticeably better here as well.

“Dylan” (Timberlake) arrives in New York and is shown around by “Jamie” (Kunis) who did her part to bring him there to apply for an editor position with GQ. When he accepts and the two begin their sexual relationship, we immediately see how well their personalities compliment each other’s, and as expected, we are shown how subtly that both are willing to share only portions of their lives with each other while keeping the rest secret.

The feisty arguments and the recurrent sense of irony in the two’s dialog is less noticeable only when compared to the pro-NY settings that act like a city-sponsored advertisement. I thought the subway dances and multicultural mix-ups designed to suggest city unity were a bit much.

Dylan comes to New York from L.A. Because of Kunis’ influence, he signs on and takes the job. But this sarcastic and talkative duo doesn’t stop talking, not even during sex. There’s so much talking in this movie that a foreign exchange student could use it to perfect his English. The film’s heavy sexual theme rides right along on the back of the chemistry they each have with each other. And Dylan keeps a hardon longer than any man I know.

When the two finally get to know each other’s families, we get to what it takes the whole movie to show us: Everyone has family baggage. Jamie’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) is as loose as a bungee cord thrown down a hallway and has never been Parent of The Year material. She denies it, but she can’t even remember who Jamie’s father was or his nationality. Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins) is suffering the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and his family back home in Los Angeles now stands by to watch over him.

Jamie’s own history with not being swept off her feet by the love of her life and Dylan’s own insecurities reach a new level when Dylan invites Jamie back home with him. This is where their friendship with benefits is put to the test, as it seems to be growing into something more. But what are romances without breaking-points reached?

One of the more salient characters in the movie is Dylan’s co-worker, “Tommy” (Woody Harrelson) who fills the role of the funny and outspoken gay guy in the workplace with some surprisingly heterosexual wisdom. His screen presence takes the focus off of everyone else each time we see him.

The movie teases us as the two tease each other on the true nature of their relationship. Both seem to be okay with keeping things a little extra friendly. That just begs the question of who, first, is going to develop feelings? The characters are as wrapped up in each other as the actors who create them, but no amount of genius or stellar performances can take away from the fact that we’re eventually going to get mad at someone for not being honest.

And that is the only unattractive part of the film; we have to be mad at someone for getting mad at their significant other for being willing - and able - to not let feelings get involved in sex. Women play these head games so often, but then men do, too. Neither can point the finger with impunity.

The movie is too grand for its own message and is simply wrong in its conclusion (that sex and friendship can’t ever mix). It happens all the time, but we already knew what the movie portrays--that when friends have sex, it usually screws things up. We know this and it is often simply not what people want, hence, the need for a dramatized, spirited presentation such as this one to give us a romance and help us to expect that we, too, will someday “find the right one.”

(JH)

Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for some violent content and brief sexuality)
Director: Will Gluck
Starring: “Dylan” (Justin Timberlake), “Jamie” (Mila Kunis), “Lorna” (Patricia Clarkson), “Annie” (Jenna Elfman), “Parker” (Bryan Greenberg), “Mr. Harper” (Richard Jenkins), “Tommy” (Woody Harrelson), “Sam” (Nolan Gould), “Quincy” (Andy Samberg)
Genre: Comedy / Romance
Trailer

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