Friends with Benefits (Screen Gems, R)

The effect on the audience is the same as with any other rom-com; we want those two crazy kids to get over themselves already and admit they love each other.

 

 

 

Romantic comedies have their shtick down. Boy and girl meet cute and then spend the next 90 minutes trying to engage us in their romantic missteps. It’s not the worst playbook out there, but it’s not exactly fresh territory, either. After every rom-com viewing, I always find myself wondering if there’s a better way to do things.

Friends with Benefits certainly gives it a try. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) hit it off after meeting through work and become fast friends. The two dumpees commiserate over their recently failed relationships and wonder together why emotions have to be involved at all. Can’t two people who like each other have sex, stay friends, and not get wrapped up in the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements? Dylan and Jamie decide that they can do just that.

Friends with Benefits does a good job of making us think it’s different from your standard romantic comedy. Dylan and Jamie don’t fit into your typical archetypes of the clueless jerk and the frazzled woman who has a handle on everything but her love life. There’s also plenty of raunch and sexual frankness to go around. But, while it seems different on the surface, it’s really not. The effect on the audience is the same as with any other rom-com; we want those two crazy kids to get over themselves already and admit they love each other.

I think part of the problem may be that they’re so obviously made for each other. Before deciding to embark on a booty call buddyship, Jamie asks Dylan if he’s even attracted to her. They end up going over all the ways they were immediately intrigued by each other’s appearance. Isn’t that wrong? If you want to make sure feelings don’t get in the way of your freewheeling sexy times, shouldn’t you pick a repeat partner that you find unappealing in most ways?

Now, I don’t feel like I got played, but as hard as the filmmakers tried to give us something fresh they never quite got me all the way there. Dylan and Jamie’s various sexual encounters (which they make sure stay less than emotional either by giving detailed instructions to each other or discussing their workday) usually made the audience around me howl with laughter at their candidness, but I didn’t totally buy it.

The blunt sex talk during those times didn’t feel completely natural. It seemed a lot like the characters were trying to force themselves apart emotionally because they were afraid (maybe without even knowing it consciously) that they already had real feelings for one another. So, the dialogue couldn’t come off as shocking or funny to me, since it didn’t come from an honest place for the characters.

Timberlake and Kunis make a good-looking couple, as most attractive people would. Kunis comes out on top, though, in the acting stakes. She makes Jamie a real and natural (though slightly messed up) woman. Jamie is exactly the kind of woman that movies like this need more of: a bit damaged by her upbringing but still confident, self-assured, funny, and hopeful.

Timberlake gets points for being willing to go wherever the gags take him. But, (Saturday Night Live appearances notwithstanding) I think he does his best when he tackles the meatier stuff of dramatic work. His Dylan was a bit stiff, but I’m willing to believe that the pressures of his first leading film role may have gotten to him a bit.│Adrienne Jones

 

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