The relationship between two friends gets complicated when they decide to get romantic. Dylan and Jamie think it’s going to be easy to add the simple act of sex to their friendship, despite what Hollywood romantic comedies would have them believe. They soon discover however that getting physical really does lead to complications.
After his lacklustre comedic performance opposite old flame Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, Justin Timberlake, who stars opposite his alleged new romantic fling, Mila Kunis, in Will Gluck’s new rom-com, Friends With Benefits, may well have redeemed himself, and found a compatible niche that his army of fans want to see him in – the romantic lead.
The story follows two attractive and super-talented professionals in Manhattan who decide on a no-strings-attached relationship. But while trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies that they mock, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) soon discover that ‘the sex part’ in a friendship does lead to complications.
Although a predictable one that attempts to mock the rom-com genre, but in turn, fully embraces it, Gluck has given us a story with a really smart and sassy burst of contemporary relationship strife that stealthily draws you into the Timberlake-Kunis magnetism, and supplies more than one memorable line in the process. It has some latter-day hallmarks of the iconic and groundbreaking When Harry Met Sally, but suffers from déjà vu episodes because the whole NYC stomping ground of romantic obstacles has been well worn and over explored before.
There is the initial rapid rapport at the start, mostly engineered by Kunis’ character in the script that takes some getting on board with and adjusting to. It’s as though Jamie has a nervous disposition, or Gluck is desperately making sure she comes across as quick-witted from the get-go, as so not to fall into the rom-com clichés he is so keen to avoid. It also has the East Coast verses West Coast rivalry that US audiences might relate to better.
That said Kunis delivers some knockout banter that translates in any culture and endears herself in the self-depreciating set-pieces, plus portrays Jamie as a ballsy New Yorker confident with her sexuality – true girl power of the Noughties, rather than some daft, soppy member of the fairer sex. Timberlake spends most of the time batting back Kunis/Jamie’s comments in an efficient and self-assured manner, resulting in the Dylan-Jamie battle of the sexes settling down into one acutely witty one, full of great moments.
Fans of both will get to see a lot more of their heroes’ toned physiques than usual, and there is some immodest suggestions that the pair know ‘they’re the bomb’ and seriously hot property. In fact there are some chemically explosive scenes in the bedroom, all acted out with the same ‘fully-clothed’ self-assurance – and in parts, with a little running commentary, too.
As for supporting gems, Harrelson is utterly hilarious as the gay sports jock and just doesn’t seem to get enough screen-time, to be honest, as his contribution is worth its weight in gold in this. Patricia Clarkson who plays Jamie’s free-spirited mother puts the hippie cool back into the original 60s’ love child in this, but although provides an insight into why Jamie has commitment issues, also steps up to the mark in providing advice when it’s requested. Jenna Elfman, star of the unforgettable 2000 NYC-based rom-com Keeping The Faith – where she plays the romantic lead as an equally sassy version of Jamie – is ‘big sis’ to Dylan, and although has a brief appearance, still relays that naturally funny intelligence as Annie while dealing with their Alzheimer’s-inflicted father, played by Richard Jenkins.
Friends With Benefits is a standard rom-com by any other name, regardless of its flagrant patronage of others – as when the couple watches scenes from a cheesy spoof rom-com (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones), and vow not to copy the daft pitfalls of love. However, like many contemporary films in the genre, the writers are concentrating on sharper dialogue and funnier observations, and with some great direction, Gluck showcases his exciting lead actors in the best light.