It’s a well-worn setup. Boy meets girl in quirky setting, they become friends, then things get rocky.
For Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis), the very clichéd nature of romantic comedies and relationships in general leads to one obvious solution, sex as tennis. Just to get it on, and get it over with, without any of the trappings of a relationship and all the drama that comes along with it. Can these two be friends with benefits without ruining the friendship with emotional entanglements?
I think you know where this is going. If not, I hope you enjoy your first romantic comedy.
Dylan is moving to New York to take a job at GQ, and Jamie is the headhunter that got him to leave his LA-based blog and head to the Big Apple. He’s emotionally distant, she’s emotionally damaged. The fact that both of them are drawn to a no strings ‘relationship’ isn’t out of the question, especially when you consider the size of New York, and how wearing it can be to be in a string of failed couplings.
Yet, they are joined by the usual ingredients, there are twists and turns, and some accidental eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Dylan and Jamie stay adorably perfect for each other the whole time.
When it comes to a movie like Friends With Benefits, where everyone knows how things are going to work out, and when the general plot has been made already this calendar year alone (No Strings Attached), you need great stars to bring people in. When you have people like Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, you’ve got people in seats no matter what they might be doing.
While Timberlake still isn’t an actor, he’s got charm enough to fake it, and the movie persona is close enough to his real-life persona that it’s not too much of a stretch for him. Ditto for Kunis, who has a developed romantic comedy-type persona that she’s used in multiple moves, usually to good effect. No need to stray too far from type.
The addition of Woody Harrelson as Tommy, GQ’s alpha male gay sports editor, is a treat, if only because Harrelson throws himself into every role, and has killer comic instincts.
However, there was a problem with the flick, and it was the fact that in the movie’s second half, when Dylan and Jamie head to Los Angeles to meet Dylan’s sister Annie (Jenna Elfman) and father (Richard Jenkins), the fun kind of slows down. It’s not that Annie isn’t fun, or that Harper the father doesn’t get some good lines, it’s that Dylan’s father is ill. That’s, ahem, not exactly a great way to keep the laughs coming in. It’s more a tragedy, and it deflates the movie almost completely.
Still, when it’s not depressing the audience, it’s a pretty fun movie with a lot of light, quick back-and-forth between the leads, who are perfect for light romantic comedy. There’s a lot of fun here, and not just between the sheets. Sure, we know how this is going to work out before it even starts, but the fun is found along the way.
I’m not sure why director Will Gluck, David A. Newman, and Keith Merryman went for the illness subplot, but I wish they hadn’t, as it completely silenced every person in the theater, including the people behind me who laughed obnoxiously at every joke.
Aside from that huge misstep, it’s an otherwise cute, fun movie. Had they somehow gotten around that aspect, or not written that into the flick at all, it would’ve rated a bit higher. As it stands, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up) is a competent director with a good comic touch, and he’s got some great actors to work with here. And, while you might not think that the rom-com genre is the trickiest to crack, Gluck certainly has a knack for it.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has always been interested in visiting New York, but he probably couldn’t live there, even if he could ride a horse-drawn carriage. Find more by Ron at Shaktronics and PopFi.