Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Age Appropriate for: 17+. So much sex, obviously! Also cursing, descriptive talk about sex, Timberlake’s nude butt, various other nude butts and breasts, and some weighty subplots about parental abandonment and Alzheimer’s disease. Pretty much best for parents or older teens.
‘Friends with Benefits’ doesn’t reach ‘When Harry Met Sally’ levels of awesome, but it does give us a chance to watch Justin Timberlake sing and dance and admire Mila Kunis’s gorgeousness. Where’s the babysitter? Call them over so you can indulge in this ultimately satisfying raunch-fest.
By Roxana Hadadi
Back in January, I surprised myself by liking “No Strings Attached,” a movie starring Natalie Portman (who has made some seriously meh choices since winning that Oscar for “Black Swan”) and Ashton Kutcher (who will soon assault our television sets as Charlie Sheen’s replacement on “Two and A Half Men”) as buddies turned sex partners who eventually develop feelings along the way even though they originally were just each other’s booty call. “How revolutionary!” I thought at the time. “A romantic comedy about sex and friendship that maintains some semblance of realism and doesn’t star Katherine Heigl!” I’m pretty sure my heart swelled.
Little did I know that barely six months later I’d be reaping even more praise on “Friends with Benefits,” a similarly plotted romantic comedy that takes two friends, adds sex to the equation and invites audiences to guess what’s going to happen. You know, I bet they end up together. Crazy, right?
But “Friends with Benefits” does what “No Strings Attached” attempted and makes it funnier, raunchier and more rapid-fire, with a brisk pace and some seriously wonderful chemistry between stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Portman and Kutcher were fine, I guess, but once you got past the initial physical comedy of the very short Portman and the very tall Kutcher paired up together, there wasn’t much real spark. In contrast, Timberlake and Kunis honestly can’t seem to get enough of each other — all the gazes and giggles and fights add up to a relationship audiences can truly believe. Either the rumors are true and the two were engaging in a real dalliance off-set, or they’re the Best. Actors. Ever. (Obviously I’m going with the first option.)
Of course you know how “Friends with Benefits” will play out, because romantic comedies are basically the most stereotypical film genre in Hollywood. But what director Will Gluck and writers David Newman and Keith Merryman do, while still providing the genre standbys of an angry breakup, other romantic interests and ultimately wise parents, is make it pretty damn funny. As a 23-year-old, I know legions of people who hook up as friends and think it won’t affect their relationship otherwise; Gluck, Newman and Merryman effectively capture that nonchalant attitude, give us the passionate sex scenes we want to see and then build up believable characters defined by more than just their favorite positions. “Friends with Benefits” is a movie about sex, of course, but ultimately it’s just about a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her. Or, you know, some kind of twist on that.
Whereas “No Strings Attached” was set in Los Angeles and focused on campmates who run into each other at college and as real-life grownups, “Friends with Benefits” takes us to New York City, where Jamie (Kunis) is a gorgeous headhunter who is dumped by her boyfriend (Andy Samberg) because she’s “really emotionally damaged” and her eyes are too big. Across the country, Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is similarly bounced to the curb by his girlfriend (Emma Stone) for being too “emotionally unavailable.” With seemingly nothing holding him down, Dylan accepts Jamie’s offer to come to NYC and interview for a job as GQ magazine’s new art director; to help sell him on the gig, she takes him all around the city. They eat gyros. They sneak on top of a building and see the stars. And they get caught up in a dancing flash mob in the middle of Times Square, inspiring Dylan to dream up new ideas for GQ — and cement Jamie as his first friend in NYC.
Soon they’re really good buddies playing Wii together, then pretty soon after that they’re really good buddies falling into bed together. What they first imagine as meaningless sex transforms into something more, as the two try to figure out how to adapt their “it’s complicated” status to the reactions of Jamie’s mother Lorna (Patricia Clarkson, who hilariously played Timberlake’s mother in that “Motherlover” skit on “Saturday Night Live”), whose flighty ways have affected her walled-up daughter, and Dylan’s sister Annie (Jenna Elfman) and father (Richard Jenkins), who Dylan left behind when he moved across the country. What, you thought Jamie and Dylan were just pretty people without any serious family problems? What did you think this was, “Something Borrowed”?
What keeps the film from getting too treacle-y at the end, which gets pretty emotionally heavy thanks to a serious illness and some cruelty between the two friends, is the way Timberlake and Kunis deftly bounce between flirty cuteness and fiery resentment and warm understanding. Timberlake is great when he’s hamming it up by singing, dancing or trying to do simple math (his character’s childhood nemesis), and Kunis evens out the sultry fun girl she was in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” with more fragility and vulnerability. When they’re together onscreen, it’s hard to remember what silly plot device was keeping them apart.
Though there are tears, majestically swelling music and a tidy and pleasant end to it all — all elements of the romantic comedy genre that Dylan and Jamie mocked previously — it’s how the two leads interact that makes “Friends with Benefits” an enjoyably R-rated foray into a formulaic genre we all already know about. Sorry, “No Strings Attached” — I’d rather be in a committed relationship with “Friends with Benefits.”