One of the few genres of film that this reviewer has never been able to stomach too easily is the romantic comedy. Not because he doesn’t like to see people fall in love, then misstep, find their way back from disaster, and make it in the end, but because—by and large—this is the most predictable, formulaic genre there is. You know what’s going to happen before the credits finish playing. It’s not just story structure, either. So often there are landmarks, whimsical or eccentric supporting characters, and the main characters have a passion for something that makes them oh so desirable. SNORE! It may, and obviously has, worked many times before, but for this little black duck, it’s like a friggen broken record.
2011 saw two Rom Coms that purported to break the mould with a frank and open exploration of the F$%# buddy—an intriguing and more modern approach, perhaps? No Strings Attached was first out of the gate, and soon after Friends with Benefits followed. No Strings, while enjoyable, didn’t break any mould. How about Friends with Benefits?
Justin Timberlake stars as Dylan, a successful art director who is head-hunted for a prestigious magazine job in New York. That head-hunter, Jamie (Mila Kunis) ends up being his closest friend after he accepts the job. Quickly they decide to enter into a f$%# buddy arrangement until they’re ready to move on to the next stage of their lives with others. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
Let’s start with what works, because there are a few things. The two leads are very likeable, their banter is natural, relatable, and, for the most part, believable. The supporting cast, particularly Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins, give the story even more depth and reality. The pace is breezy and the film flies by easily. The majority of the cast is likeable, but no one is particularly funny. Woody Harrelson is especially wasted on an unoriginal character whose shock value never rises to the task, and the likeable little boy’s magician gags just fall flat.
Then we get to what really doesn’t work. It’s just more of the same crap: the get together, the emotional crisis, and the over the top re-wooing of the girl are all here, all at the requisite moment in the story, and at the end there are NO surprises. Of course, the filmmakers know this: they reference it within the narrative, and think they’re oh so clever by having the characters acknowledge it. Got news for ya, it’s not clever, it’s dull; and this insipid self-referential humour is as clichéd and unoriginal as the Rom Com plot they try to lampoon. Then we have a comedy that wants to be raunchy and is vanilla compared to some of its contemporaries. All the elements were there to take it in a truly surprising direction (and I give the Farrelly’s negatively received Heartbreak Kid points for at least accomplishing that), but in the end, it’s decided to rest on the conceit that if they know they’re making a cliché, then it’s okay. It’s not.
Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are the main reasons to watch this, and they are so damn likeable. What a shame they were lumbered with a film that thinks it’s cleverer and funnier than it actually is. It’s watchable weekend fluff, better than a lot of its ilk, but fluff at the end of the day, nonetheless.
MPAA Rating: R for some violent content and brief sexuality.
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Keith Merryman (screenplay), David A. Newman
Cast: Justin Timberlake; Mila Kunis; Patricia Clarkson; Jenna Elfman; Bryan Greenberg; Richard Jenkins
Genre: Romance | Comedy
Tagline: Friendship is a four-letter word.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Bananas in the refrigerator? What are you, Puerto Rican?"
Distributor: Screen Gems
Official Site: www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/friendswithbenefits
Release Date: July 22, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: December 2, 2011
Synopsis: Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) think it's going to be easy to add the simple act of sex to their friendship, despite what Hollywood romantic comedies would have them believe. They soon discover however that getting physical really does always lead to complications.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - December 2, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Thai
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy
Encoding: Region C review
Really great MPEG-4 HD transfer that gives New York in the summer a wonderfully inviting ambience (for an Aussie who’s yet to go there!); equally impressive 5.1 DTS-HD audio. Special features include a short run of the mill making of featurette, a feature length commentary and gag reel, amongst a few other morsels. Passably enjoyable, like the movie.
- With writer/Director Will Gluck and Actors Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis
Bonus Benefits: A Pop-Up Trivia Track
- Deleted Scenes
- On set with FWB
- In a Flash: Choreographic a Mob
- UV Copy
- DVD Copy