Friends With Benefits (2011)
Friends with Benefits
Director: Will Gluck
Writers: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck, Harley Peyton
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Segel, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Nolan Gould, Andy Samberg, Shaun White, Emma Stone, Lili Mirojnick
Synopsis: While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violent content and brief sexuality
The Black Swan Review
For those who didn't read my last review of "No Strings Attached", I had the review titled "The White Swan Review." Why you may ask? Well, the main reasons were that both Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman starred in last year's cinematic success, "The Black Swan", and they both went on to star in two films that had eerily similar concepts; with Natalie starring in "No Strings Attached" and Mila in "Friends with Benefits" respectively. Which is the better romantic comedy? Well, I guess we're about to find out. After seeing how poorly "No Strings Attached" was done, I wasn't sure how "Friends with Benefits" would do with the same concept. However, it's surprisingly better than many might think. Not only is the romance between the two characters much more believable and thought out, but it's also genuinely funny without the needless forced scenes. Granted, there are still typical Hollywood cliches in this movie as well, but it also pokes fun of many of those same cliches too.
Unlike "No Strings Attached", "Friends with Benefits" doesn't tend to take itself too seriously; which only helps the film whenever it pokes fun at many of the cliches that most romantic comedies fall into. Indeed, like Wes Craven's infamous "Scream" franchise, "Friends with Benefits" relatively likes to poke fun at all the cliches of it's own genre. Unfortunately, like the later "Scream" sequels, the film inevitably becomes a victim of the same cliches that it cleverly mocks. Granted, none of the "Scream" movies are romantic comedies, but the concept of poking fun of it's own genre is eerily similar to what "Friends with Benefits" tries to implement here.
Justin Timberlake (Dylan) plays a graphic designer from L.A., who visits New York to be recruited into working for GQ Magazine. Upon his arrival, he meets the Headhunter for GQ, Jamie (Mila Kunis), who's job it is to not only sell the idea of working for the Magazine to him, but to sell the prospect of living in New York as well. After taking Dylan on a tour of the city, Dylan suddenly becomes convinced that New York is the place to be, and signs on to work for GQ. From here, Dylan and Jamie become close friends where they hang out with each other constantly, as one can tell they really seem to hit it off. They go out to dinner together all the time. They stroll through the park together. They share secrets with each other that they swear they'd never tell people usually, and she eventually takes him up to her private roof top where she likes to think. If that wasn't bad enough, he even knows whenever she curses that she has a tendency to blink a lot. Aw isn't that cute? Aren't they just adorable together? And to think, they're not even dating yet in this movie, but you can already tell they'd make such a cute couple, huh?
Anyway, to get back on topic here, it doesn't really take long for these two to eventually confess to each other about how much trouble they have when it comes to relationships. You see, Dylan is emotionally distant in all his relationships, as he doesn't know how to open up to the women he dates; which also means he has a fear of commitment. Then we get to Jamie, who suffers from being emotionally damaged, or as some might call her, she's known to be a hopeless romantic. Whenever she goes out with a guy, she immediately falls head over heels in love with him, but the guys that she dates always turn out to be selfish pricks that are only interested in sex; hence she's emotionally damaged. Indeed, both of them tend to have their issues when it comes to love, yet both would never want to ruin their friendship that they both enjoy so much. Of course, it finally hits them as they're watching a few romantic comedies together in their underwear. Again, they're not sleeping together (supposedly) or dating at this point, but this is just how the scene plays out. As I said, they're in their underwear together at her place, as they make fun of how stupid and cliched romantic comedies are, and begin to ask...is it possible to have sex without emotional attachment? In fact, Dylan philosophically compares the art of sex to that of being a simple act like playing tennis.
Long story short, they both agree to start a no strings attached kind of relationship; where they can enjoy having sex together without all the petty emotional drama involved. Plus, they even agreed to not fall into the cliches that a romantic comedy would probably have them end up. Oh, the irony of such an agreement. Although like "No Strings Attached", this film does tend to fall into a lot of the same cliches that we'd expect from a romantic comedy. You have two people that are allegedly the polar opposites of each other that want to hook up, but never want to admit it openly. You have the damn annoying best friends/family that try to encourage them to have something more with each other. Somewhere along the movie, they get into a fight, and the male lead has to do something ridiculously goofy to show that he loves the girl. And, let's not forget about the whole matters of the heart speech that's often ridiculously cliched to give our male lead the inspiration to take back his girl. Gee, don't you wish real life was this easy when it came to dating?
Although to be fair, I honestly liked this film a lot. Sure, it was cliched and kind of stupid, but it was a fun film to watch. It was one of those rare romantic comedies that knew how cheesy it was, and didn't bother to take itself too seriously. Add in the fact, that it cleverly mocks all the stereotypes of it's own genre; which only enhances the comedy of this movie more. However, the thing that made this movie so much better than "No Strings Attached" was that the romance never felt rushed, and the chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis actually felt like a genuine relationship. In fact, from the very first few scenes, the viewer could pick up on their chemistry together that felt so natural; whereas in "No Strings Attached", the chemistry between Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher just felt forced half the time.
To be fair though, I found the supporting cast in "No Strings Attached" to be funnier than the ones in this movie. Don't get me wrong, "Friends with Benefits" has funny supporting characters too, but most of them tend to get annoying after a while, like Woody Harrelson for instance. Sure, he starts off funny playing the homosexual best friend to a straight guy like Dylan, but Woody's constant reference to tell the audience that he's playing a homosexual tends to get borderline annoying. We get it. You're playing a gay guy, so who cares? The movie isn't about Woody playing a gay guy, yet in every scene Woody is in, the gay innuendos tend to get borderline obsessive with his character. Thankfully, his character isn't in too many scenes, but he does get annoying after a while.
In the end, both these films have their flaws, but I would have to say that "Friends with Benefits" is clearly the better film. Not only is the romance genuinely heartfelt and thought out, but the chemistry between the two main actors is spot on with the film. Granted, I won't go out on a limb to say this is the best romantic comedy that I've ever seen, but it's certainly one of the most entertaining. Plus, I'm sure most guys will be interested to know that the whole "ABC" thing when it comes to sex, it doesn't work. At least, that's what Jamie says in this movie. I highly recommend it for those wanting to see a good romantic comedy, as I'd have to give this movie a two and a half out of four. It's not a great film, but it's definitely worth watching.