Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Keith Merryman, Will Gluck, David A. Newman
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Jamie (Kunis) is an ambitious New York headhunter looking to recruit Dylan (Timberlake), a promising blog editor, to head up the art department of GQ magazine. Immediately the two spark a friendship, bonding over their recent breakups. The physical attraction is there, but neither are inclined to jump into a relationship, and thus make a pact to lead a “sex only” partnership. But Jamie’s desire to eventually be swept off her feet by prince charming, and Dylan’s emotional detachment prove to make things more difficult than they anticipated.
From the outset Friends with Benefits acknowledges its another installment in a complacent genre. The writers’ script prods at the conventions of rom-coms without fully skewering it, because the writers are aware that even though the genre is plagued with clichés, it, too, is another installment… but that doesn’t mean it can’t have fun. The result is something very similar to Gluck’s last feature, Easy A (and you’ll see Emma Stone in a hilarious bit part here), where the film seems to be content nested within the limits of its genre, but also messy-ing things up a bit.
For a lot of viewers, this is a trial by fire for both of its young stars – Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake – who have both up until now largely appeared as support in larger productions (namely 2010’s Black Swan and The Social Network). The chemistry of the two stars is sure to surprise many, (as is the surprisingly hard R rating). What Timberlake currently lacks in acting chops – I say currently, because he has already made huge strides between this and the aforementioned Fincher film – he makes up for with the comfort of a familiar support system. Friends Andy Samberg and Patricia Clarkson appear in small roles (“I’m a motherlover, you’re a motherlover”). And with a brilliant stroke of casting, the remaining roles are filled out with charming and talented performers the likes of Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson (who provides some of the biggest laughs), and Jenna Elfman.
While it doesn’t break new ground, it has fun kicking around in the dust of the hundreds of films that have come before it. In a very humorous through-line, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones appear in one of Jamie’s favorite romance films, which Dylan is quick to point out the platitude of. Sure, there are a few inconsistencies in character, and te film suffers from a slightly slow second half, but everything is easy to forgive due to its steadfast nature. Friends with Benefits is the paradox that every audience wants… it’s different, but it’s the same. And that’s okay.
USA. 109 minutes. Rated R.