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I was unsure what to expect going into Friends with Benefits at an
advanced screening a few weeks ago. It always seemed a bit too close in
plot to No Strings Attached (made extra odd as the female leads Mila
Kunis and Natalie Portman had literally just starred together in Black
Swan), a film that came out less than six months ago, and while the
trailers looked amusing, they seemed to look a little too close to an
atypical romantic comedy. But the film actually ended up surprising me.
Well, the first half at least.
Jamie (Kunis) is a headhunter in New York City who helps aspiring graphic design artist Dylan (Justin Timberlake) land a prestigious job at GQ. They become good friends, and after a discussion about their relationship failures, decide to start having sex without the relationship schmaltz (hence the titular phrase). But the good times cannot stay uncomplicated for long.
Rather surprisingly, the first half of Friends with Benefits is a ridiculously raunchy sex comedy that is sweeter than it is crude. The dialogue and one-liners drop at a steady pace, and there is plenty of laugh out loud moments. I was genuinely surprised at just how much I was enjoying the film, and how well co-writer/director Will Gluck (who knocked Easy A out of the park last year) helped capture the tropes and stereotypes of romantic comedies, and went entirely against them. The scene that starts the initial sexual antics is a complete dissection of the genre, and seeing the film twist and turn around the familiar plot devices was wonderful to see. It made the film feel hilarious, but also made it feel like it was attempting to do something different at the same time. Adding in a couple of random cameos from notable actors was a bit wacky (which the trailers have ruined slightly), but helped add to the humour.
Except the film comes to a screeching halt just about halfway in when Jamie and Dylan come to the all too obvious realization that they may want something more. The film then becomes drastically more dramatic, a lot less sweet, and significantly more ordinary. Even the laughs suffer, landing less with a snicker and more with a groan. Everything it does to shift itself away from the romantic comedy genre feels wasted because it falls into all of the stereotypes quicker than it poked fun at them. It almost feels like they wanted to desperately feel different, and then decided to just go the safer route as opposed to sticking with its offbeat early tactics. I was really enjoying the film significantly more than I imagined, but suddenly felt bored and totally thrown off by the drastic tonal shift.
While sketch comedy has proved to be one of his strong suits, Timberlake seems to have a lot of trouble carrying the film. We know he has the chops to command the screen and be absolutely magnetic (we have David Fincher and The Social Network to thank for that), but here he seems to be struggling with every other scene. He lands most of his jokes well, does decently with the dramatic bits and has plenty of chemistry with Kunis, but he lacks the spark I think most people will expect him to have in this role. He comes off as just okay, and more amateur than anything else. He would have been better suited in the film as a key supporting player, as opposed to the lead.
Kunis on the other hand, is significantly stronger and proves that her turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall may have been an early suggestion of the formidable comedic talent she may quickly become. Gluck is not able to achieve the same level of breakthrough that he got from Emma Stone in Easy A from Kunis, but she manages to carry the film almost single handedly. Even at the script's weakest moments, she grins and pushes forward, never once appearing to be struggling as much as Timberlake does. I think my only complaint against her is that she spends a good portion of the film completely nude, yet ends up wearing all too obvious pasties under a white shirt in one scene. It seems more like a complaint against a horrendously bad editing and lighting decision than against her, but it was a scene that made her seemingly-realistic character feel a whole lot less believable.
Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins both deliver good performances, but sadly feel like they are just plagiarizing from characters they have played better in the past. Jenna Elfman (who I did not realize was still acting) does a little better in a warm and significantly low-key role as Dylan's sister Annie. But it is Woody Harrelson who steals the entire show as gay sports writer Tommy. He plays the character ridiculously over-the-top, but never feels like he is encroaching on any stereotypes. He makes it his own, and is almost too good in the role. He gets all of the film's best dialogue quips, and runs circles around everyone on screen. In more than one instance, Timberlake looks legitimately shocked at some of the things Harrelson says and gets away with. I think the film could have only benefited from including more of him.
In the end, Friends with Benefits is both surprisingly well done and unsurprisingly ordinary. It tries so hard initially to be the anti- romantic comedy, and then just ends up falling into the same predictable elements that every other film in the genre has already done countless times before. The film is genuinely hilarious when it wants to be however, and this does save it from being a total waste. But it could have been so much more.
"Friends with Benefits" has a predictable and unoriginal rom-com storyline and its ending is pretty lame. Yet this movie coasts on the charisma of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis and a lot of sharp and witty dialogue. As long as these two actors are talking to each other or having sex, there is hardly ever a dull moment. And the reason for this seems to be simple enough. In most rom-coms, the actors play pretty dim-witted, boring and superficial people and therefore there is no reason to take interest in anything they may say or do. In this rom-com, "Friends with Benefits," Timberlake and Kunis play fresh, independent and smart people and for this reason we are interested in the lives they lead and what they say to each other. So "Friends with Benefits" does not have much of a plot, but that does seem to matter because on this rare occasion we are happily distracted by the magnetism of two capable on screen actors who are playing two well-craft parts.
Watch this if...you are in the mood for an adult-oriented romantic
comedy that has a great pace and manages to appeal to both genders.
Acting/Casting: 6.5* - Timberlake and Kunis are very good in the lead roles and the supporting cast is well put together. Honestly, Timberlake surprised me a bit with his performance.
Directing/Cinematography/Technical: 6* - There is a lot of great scenery of LA and New York in the film. The movie also has a great pace, which can be attributed to the directing.
Plot/Characters: 6* - Nothing new in the storyline with this movie, but it is done fairly well. Guy and girl are friends and decide to have no strings attached sex, but of course that is hard to do.
Entertainment Value: 7* - As mentioned, this movie is appealing to both genders and is fast paced and entertaining. I would recommend to anyone looking for a good romantic comedy that would interest both members in the relationship.
My Score: 6.5+6+6+7 = 25.5/4 = 6.4
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't know what I expected from this packaged pre-frabricated Hollywood blockbuster so why did I feel like I wasted my $1.29 at Redbox (actually twice that for accidentally keeping the movie 2 nights). From the beginning, the dialogue was so full of quips and witty banter that the characters were never believable. The plot is basically the writer living out a fantasy of "no strings attached" sex which is a joke in real life because it's not how humans are made. In the movie, instead of learning that "no love sex" is impossible, the characters just decide they really do like each other (I'm not even going dilute the word "love" by using it here). The movie then proceeds to predictably fall into the romantic comedy trap that it made fun of in the beginning. Beside many personal annoyances (like Hollywood producers & writers always making movies about or based in New York or L.A. because they are ignorant as to any kind of life outside of those cities), I am beyond sick of movies diluting the beauty of sex by pushing the boundaries and tiptoeing on the line of pornography. This movie offers nothing more than the eye candy of Mila Kunis. If I were you I would not waste a Redbox dollar on it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is just...ugh. I got halfway through it and realized that I literally did not care what happened at all. I wouldn't have cared if one of them was hit by a truck and died, that was the result of unconvincing characters who just sound like their spewing out bad jokes from their memorised script. This movie didn't even have the bright side of good actors, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis may be easy on the eye but are mediocre actors at best, you only have to watch MK in Oz: The Great And Powerful to see what I mean. It's just so boring and predictable and as the movie goes on it gets more and more cheesy. The plot is so unbelievably cliché that you only have to read the description on the back to know what's going to happen.
Is not.. and maybe is good. Justin Timberlake is like a piece of wood.. and wood express emotions very hardly. Is not.. because "sex is like tennis" so.. its predictable from begging to end. Is not comedy to.. I try very hard to find any funny moments.. was hopeless. OK.. its maybe any interesting story here?.. Which mean.. you can watch this movie and you don't know what happen next? Sorry.. no! Wooden hero meets beautiful girl, go to bed, split up, hero talk with Yoda, they meet again.. end of story. Familiar? To much familiar for me. A few weeks ago I saw "No Strings Attached".. there Natalie Portman can lift and rescue this movie.. (another wooden hero BTW - Ashton Kutsher). Big Mila Kunis eyes can't help here. Its a pity. so.. what you get? you can remember something when you get out from cinema? Not too much I think... nothing maybe.. You forgot this movie before you arrive home. My prediction for Golden Raspberries this year: - worst scenario - worst couple - worst male performer - worst director
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the movie for the video generation - all flash mobs and
photography. Some very good actors (Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson, and
Richard Jenkins) do their best with clichéd caricature actors (the
shrewish ex-girlfriend, the lost-in-the-70's mom; and the father with
Alzheimiers with a propensity for taking his pants off. Only Jenna
Elfman as Timberlake's sister comes off as an actual human being. Woody
Harrelson is horribly one-note as the obsessively gay sports Editor but
it's okay because he's hip. This movie tries to be as hip as it can be
by pretending to be a spoof on Hollywood Romantic comedies while
actually making one. But, it's not really a romantic comedy at all
despite the tacked-on cliché ending. It's really vulgar.
They talk at each other saying inappropriate things and never listening to each other. Both are gorgeous - I'll give them that. But, that's just about all. Their love-making sessions include some crude exchanges and interludes with Timberlake's slapstick routing about a male situation making it too hard to urinate normally chewing up about 4 minutes of film time. I've seen some reviews saying that the two leads had great chemistry. As far as I could tell the two were filmed separately, then spliced together. In a similarly themed movie, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman had 100 times the chemistry these two did. Of course, Portman is a much more profound actress than the flippant Kunis (see Black Swan).
Okay, that's probably enough. I wasted nearly 2 hours of my life watching this so I need spend no more time on it now.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So when I first heard of this movie I got REALLY confused. Because a movie JUST LIKE THIS was JUST released it was called No Strings Attached. Wow it's official: Hollywood HAS RUN OUT OF IDEAS! They are so shameless about it now even. They don't even try to space them apart anymore to try and trick people! Like the Hulk reboots. At least they had YEARS separation. And people found THAT outrageous! These movies came out back to back! Here let me list the similarities between these two movies:
Both have the same plot: a male and female agree to be "fu(& buddies"
Both end up the same way: the male and female end up wanting more
Both have an actress that was in Black Swan; NSA: Natalie Portman FwB: Mila Kunis
Both have the male lead that was more famous in the 90's; NSA: Ashton Kutcher (That 70's Show actor) FwB: Justin Timberlake (N*sync singer)
Both have outrageous, BETTER, more interesting supporting actors/characters; NSA: the girl with the glasses FwB: Justin's gay friend.
Both have these people be at the top of their game and rich! NSA: the girl is a doctor and the guy I forgot but he was pretty well off FwB: The girl has a cushy job, and the guy is getting money thrown at him!
This last similarity brings me to my next point; the movie was unrealistic. This movie is taking place in a post-recession world. There are flash mobs, new technology, references to current things. YET in this movie companies are BEGGING people to work for them!? WTF!? THERE ARE NO JOBS! This was the MOST INSULTING DISGUSTING THING about this piece of (r@p movie! They will hire some #0re to FLY to LA to CONVINCE a guy WITH HIS OWN company to work for them. Doesn't that mean that they have to pay him more? It's for GQ magazine sure, but a mag has THAT much money!? And for what!? This guy does not even do his job! Knows nothing as proved by his gay friends question's like "What font did you use?" This guys 'brilliant' response; "I don't know. Times new roman?" Most of the time he is fooling around with the girl and doing other random $#!t!!!! It disgusts me that Hollywood does not get it! Life is not a fairy tale! People don't and CAN'T live these lives. That apartment Justin's character can supposedly afford (IN NEW YORK NO LESS!) even the rich struggle to get! WOW!
The only difference between these movies is the person that wants their relationship to mean more. In NSA it's the guy that wants more and the girl that doesn't "get it." In FwB it's the girl that wants more and the guy does not "get it."
Also I hated how this movie tried to be so hipster. Like it was trying to be so "cool." As if they were "better than" these movies they were making fun of. At this point pretty much ANY other romantic comedy is better than this piece of crap! Even NSA had the girl with the glasses - so funny! While this movie's stand out character; the gay friend, was barely even in the movie! Also the ending was a cop out they did not admit that they were wrong! Cynical to the end! Wow what idiots, what a pointless movie!
2011 will probably go down as the year Hollywood tells us having F*
buddies is OK and encouraged, with no less than three films this year
set around the premise of pure sex without strings or emotions
attached, with Love and Other Drugs and No Strings Attached setting the
precedence earlier with an incredibly good looking cast in all sorts of
undress - Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Ashton
Kutcher - and added to the list will be current IT guy and girl Justin
Timberlake and Mila Kunis rolling beneath the sheets in a typical love
story between the emotionally unavailable and the emotionally damaged.
Mila Kunis stars as Jamie, a headhunter in New York who persuades her target Dylan played by Justin Timberlake to ditch his young, upstart blogging team to join GQ (how's that for a little bit of subtle advertising) in revamping its website and to infuse new content ideas. A night out prior to the offer seals the LA based Dylan to relocate and take up the offer, with plenty of activities thrown in that if it's not Jamie being his only friend in a new, big city, they would serve as activities that would fit in for an awesome date night out. Before long they become firm friends, and made a pact to keep things physical since they each have their wants, and with the other party game to get down and dirty, so begins their game of tennis (though personally I prefer analogy with, and the term "bedminton" - it involves cocks after all). After all, why complicate what would be a beautiful friendship, if sex can be treated just as sex without the emotions thrown in to mess things up?
You know the clichéd drill by now, with things moving along fine and dandy, the hint of emotions coming into play to really turn things upside down, the narrative montage to show how frequent they mate like jackrabbits, before some large, needy episode or statements uttered that will probably reveal the true state of affairs, and the list goes on. Deny all you want, but one cannot help but to agree that the fairer sex will have things rough if pacts of this nature turn sour, and expectedly in a movie they always do, otherwise everyone will be happy without adversary, frustration and challenges to overcome and provide that change in strength of character.
And it is this power of the cliché that absolutely calls the shots in films like these. You know what will happen, but want to see them happen anyway even though you're multiple steps ahead of every character. And it is precisely these expectations that anyone would want to see covered, and try as the filmmakers want it is the clichés that they find hard to break away from, even if characters here proclaim very early on that romance in their world shouldn't be like an unbelievable Hollywood film, but in what would be art imitating art, look who's talking to begin with. And what's with the fixation about consistently taking the shine off the captain of US Airways Flight 1549 in its emergency landing onto the Hudson River?
Justin Timberlake is fast becoming the busy bona fide movie star since The Social Network, and continues his run with this film and In Time which will hit the screens here soon. He has that boyish charm that the camera just loves, and being a real life singer meant covering a number of songs here, from Stereophonics to Kris Kross made it look all too easy. Mila Kunis plays her role as the emotionally damaged girl with aplomb, and shares an effective chemistry with Timberlake that makes this film a delight to sit through, even if as mentioned the story's cliché and we know just about how these two nice looking people will likely get together.
The supporting characters while one dimensional almost always threaten to steal the show, from Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's sex crazed mom extending the lifespan of a running joke involving the nationality of Jamie's unseen dad, Woody Harrelson as the gay colleague of Dylan who always have innuendos offhand to share, Jenna Elfman who plays Dylan's sister and Richard Jenkins starring as Dylan's dad who's suffering from advancing Alzheimer's disease, which is especially poignant as it deals with the subplot of how a family copes with a loved one who's behaviour develops erratically, and holding the key to a pivotal personal experience to share and turn things around.
With Andy Samberg and Emma Stone making cameos (the latter being extremely crazy as a fanatical John Meyer fan), Friends With Benefits has its main leads to thank for in milking quite the cliché story for the masses, who are likely to make a beeline just to see those two in some down and dirty action, not that you get to see a lot to begin with anyway. Recommended, and stay tuned until after the end credits roll for more commentary when the two are sitting at a couch watching the outtakes of a DVD movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jamie is an executive recruiter who recruits Dylan, a young, up and
coming art director for a small internet company in Los Angeles, to
come to NYC and work for the much more high powered GQ Magazine. Before
this happens, there's a prologue showing their back story: both are
going through another unsuccessful relationship with a member of the
opposite sex. When Jamie and Dylan meet each other for the first time,
they're both jaded, as they've been burned one too many times, in their
quest for 'true romance'.
While getting to know each other, they watch a parody of a romcom (romantic comedy) on TV, both bemoaning the pitfalls of traditional courtships and wondering perhaps how they can circumvent all the complications associated with traditional romance. They forge an unlikely friendship where they can avoid any kind of commitment in the relationship and simply enjoy sex for its own sake. Hence, the 'benefits' is the satisfaction of having the sexual relationship without the commitment.
Soon, the film's scenarists strategy of setting us up for an old fashioned morality tale, becomes clear. The 'friends with benefits' program--that is, sex without commitment, is only part and parcel of a larger overall problem with the personalities of our protagonists. Jamie and Dylan are unfortunately narcissistic, coarse and immature.
The film's scenarists would like us to laugh at Jamie and Dylan, as they expose their foibles in the first thirty minutes or so. Jamie, the perennial go-getter, obnoxiously puts down Dylan, who extols the virtues of wide-open, west coast living as opposed to what he regards as the cramped living style of New Yorkers (the put-down becomes clear when Jamie sarcastically cracks, "What are you, a Gazelle?).
If Jamie's coarseness is off-putting, it pales in comparison to Dylan's complete cluelessness. Dylan is so narcissistic that he simply can't understand why he's so wrong about Captain Sully. People rightly perceive that he's stubborn and ignorant when he claims 'planes fly themselves'. In reality, Captain Sully's plane was almost completely disabled due to the bird strike and could not possibly fly itself. So he's wrong on that count and 'tunes out' all those who are justifiably angry with him.
Dylan's myopic 'Sully stance' is indicative of what's wrong with the first third of the film. By trying to 'humanize' the characters, exposing them as deeply flawed human beings, the film's scenarists have gone too far and made them out to be decidedly unlikeable. Somehow the Sully joke needed to be lighter and not cast Dylan in such a negative light. That way, we would care more about him at the end, when he finally does redeem himself. The same goes for Jamie whose constant use of expletives coupled with her overreaching competitiveness, also casts her in a negative light, during the expository sequences.
The failed comedy of exposing the two 'losers' who adopt the self-defeating 'friends with benefits' program becomes a much more traditional romance in Act II and III, not unlike the 'film within a film' parody of the romcom the two lovers watch and disparage early on. It doesn't take long for Jamie to have true feelings for Dylan, after he invites her to California to meet his family and they have an intimate tryst. But Dylan remains locked in his fear of commitment and after Jamie overhears him putting her down while talking with his sister, the third act crisis is precipitated.
It takes a little while longer before Dylan redeems himself by realizing how selfish he's been, but with the aid of two key allies, he finally sees the light. The allies who counsel Dylan are of course, Tommy, his gay co-worker, delightfully played by Woody Harrelson and Dylan's Alzheimer's afflicted father, Mr. Harper (solidly and convincingly played by Richard Jenkins).
Couldn't you guess, but despite Mr. Harper's fluctuating memory loss, he manages to impart to his son, a tale of long lost love which turns out to be the big lesson here: don't let your best shot at love slip away.
It's all very predictable and sentimental but Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do seem to exude some chemistry, working together. I only wish their characters were a little less alienating and a little more gregarious in the first thirty to forty minutes.
In the end, 'Benefits' can only live up to its billing for its romance and not its comedy. Simply put, there's nothing funny about obnoxious, clueless people. But once these protagonists are transformed, they do become a bit more likable. Still, is this rather predictable 'love-fest', a film you'll remember for a long time? I doubt it quite a bit.
As an old fashioned morality tale, where a misguided couple realizes the error of their ways and finds 'true love' in the process, 'Benefits' fits in well with the pantheon of mediocre romcoms, populating our movie theaters today.
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