DIRECTED BY: Will Gluck
WRITTEN BY: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck
STARRING: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins
RATING: 3 stars
The age old question is, can men and women be best friends without letting attraction ruin everything? Nowadays, arguably one of the most common conversations among Generation Y is, can you have a “friends with benefits” relationship without it destroying your friendship? Hollywood has explored this issue in several romantic comedies in recent years, most recently this year in No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. So let's be clear, Friends With Benefits is not exploring new ground, but it does give loyal romantic comedy fans what they want.
Friends With Benefits tells the story of Dylan (Timberlake), a Los Angeles-based editor of a popular blog. He is recruited for a job at GQ magazine in New York by head-hunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) and the pair become best friends. They make a pact to begin a sexual relationship without any emotional attachments or commitment. Eventually, they fall in love, but are afraid of admitting their feelings because they think it will ruin their friendship. Sound familiar?
What I like about this film though, is that it pokes fun at itself and its genre. References to romantic comedies and the let down they invariable create for audiences in real life are abundant in this film. For example, there is a reference to the unrealistic expectations of Katherine Heigl films and wanting the romantic lifestyle of George Clooney. The sex scenes are also funny, rather than sexy or sensual. However, the film also seems hypocritical in the sense that it criticises romantic comedies for creating a false fairytale and never showing what happens after “the big kiss” and yet it doesn't do much better.
As a female, I am automatically inclined to like romantic comedies. It's not a sexist thing, it's just human nature. (Most) women know that “Prince Charming” doesn't actually exist, but we like the idea that something that romantic could actually happen to us, even if it never does. A good romantic comedy needs a good cast. I still don't understand how Justin Timberlake went from “pop star” to “film star” but I was surprised that he didn't annoy me in this film. In fact, dare I say it, he was actually quite good in parts. Mila Kunis' star power continues to rise with several stand-out performances in recent films including Black Swan and a memorable performance in Date Night last year. She again gives a good performance in this film and is quite likeable. However, it is Patricia Clarkson who steals the show as Kunis' sex-obsessed mother. She is hilarious! I'm glad director Will Gluck chose to work with her again after they worked so well together in Easy A. Woody Harrelson is also a very funny side character, playing a gay editor and Jason Segel is a fun presence too. The superb Richard Jenkins also adds some heart to the film as Timberlake's ill father, whose storyline sets the film apart from some other romantic comedies.
Friends With Benefits is good fun if you like romantic comedies, and if girlfriends drag their boyfriends to see the film, they will probably laugh along at the endless sexual references and jokes. But, if I had a choice between renting Friends With Benefits on DVD on a Friday night or re-watching one of the original “friends with benefits” themed films like When Harry Met Sally, I'd choose the latter. They just don't make romantic comedies like they used to...