Friends With Benefits hit theaters, the story of....friends with benefits. So yeah, we're talking basically the same movie.
Pursued by GQ Magazine to update their website, Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) visits New York City on an interview and is "handled" by executive recruiter Jamie Rellis (Mila Kunis). Dylan takes the job, leaving Los Angeles for the new job in NYC. He takes to the job immediately as a fast friendship starts with Jamie. Both 20-somethings are coming off bad breakups, and soon enough the conversation comes up. Why don't they just have sex? No dating, no relationship, no feelings, just sex. It seems simple enough, right? Can these two crazy kids pull off the craziest of no-dating, just sex schemes?
Is there a more unnecessary thing than typing up a plot synopsis for a movie 'Friends With Benefits'? If you have two functioning brain cells and have seen at least one other romantic comedy in your lifetime, I feel safe saying you can predict the ending of the movie. Go ahead.....try it. Playing on the notion that you know this movie before it even begins, director Will Gluck has some fun with the formula. A key ingredient of the two friends deciding to have sex sans relationship is that part of their agreement involves avoiding all the stereotypes of romantic comedies. They literally talk about avoiding all the cliches and stereotypes. It provides some fun moments, even if in the end, 'Benefits' basically throws out all those preconceptions and becomes the romantic comedy it's trying not to be. Go figure. Surprising, right?
So with all that said, I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. I think much of the enjoyment comes from the script. Yes, it's a non-romantic comedy that is just the opposite....a romantic comedy. But in getting to the point where you don't want to murder the characters, it's a lot of fun. The dialogue between Timberlake's Dylan (kinda a tool-ly name, huh?) and Kunis' Jamie feels real and smart without being too real, too smart and a tad bit condescending. It's cute without being ridiculously cute. The conversations about the sexing are funny without being filthy, and the script does a fine job creating little niches for these characters, especially Dylan. We learn plenty of little touches about him that are surprisingly funny -- his trouble with simple math, his talent for sneezing at a certain time, his love for Harry Potter (It's not gay!) -- and help 'Benefits' avoid being one big, cardboard cutout.
Now comparing 'Benefits' with 'Strings' is simple for me. I like Timberlake and Kunis. I like Natalie Portman and....yeah, Ashton Kutcher, not a fan. Your enjoyment (even a little bit) will come from how much you like or dislike these characters. I'll say again about Timberlake. When he was with NSync, I never thought I'd like the guy, but he continues to create a name for himself as a reliable, likable character. Kunis is, well, Kunis, gorgeous, pretty, attractive, and a good actress to boot. There is an easygoing chemistry between the two that carries the whole story and helps it rise above the painful and familiar trappings of a romantic comedy. If you like Timberlake and/or Kunis, you'll like this movie, simple as that.
The rest of the supporting cast ain't too shabby either. Patricia Clarkson has some fun as Jamie's quirky, goofy and kinda slutty Mom who's done her best to raise her daughter as a single mom. Richards Jenkins plays Dylan's dad suffering through the early stages of Alzheimer's with Jenna Elfman playing Dylan's brother in an interesting subplot about Dylan's past. Woody Harrelson is very funny in a less than subtle role as Tommy, Dylan's co-worker, the gay sports editor at GQ. Also look for quick appearances by Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Emma Stone and Andy Samberg. Professional snowboarder and Flying Tomato himself, Shaun White makes a funny two-scene appearance as himself.
As far as romantic comedies go, I liked this one a lot. No matter what it tries to do, 'Benefits' is just that; a romantic comedy. It does things the right way though. It's funny without pandering, and it has Mila Kunis in various stages of undress and skimpy outfits. That's never, ever a bad thing. For the ladies in the audience, Justin Timberlake is also nude his fair share of the time so if you'd like to see his butt, this is your movie.
Friends With Benefits (2011): ***/****