If you’re into comedies about best friends who sleep together, you’ve hit the jackpot in 2011. After Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached back in February and the current NBC TV series of the same name as this movie, created by the writers of (500) Days Of Summer, now it’s Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits’ time in the limelight.
When two friends (Timberlake, Kunis) tell themselves it’s OK to sleep together and keep all of the complicated stuff on the side, it’s all too soon before they have to start lying that they don’t harbour any deeper feelings, and what started out as a bit of harmless, physical fun, quickly threatens to derail their entire relationship, even just as friends.
From the trailers and marketing material, you’re sold Friends With Benefits as a raunchy R-rated comedy, but while that’s what to expect for the opening 30 minutes, from there on in it quickly becomes a bog-standard rom-com. The first act is quite patently aimed at guys, filled with sex scenes, a frequently near-naked (body double for) Mila Kunis, jock humour and mocking of typical chick-flick clichés, while in acts two and three it becomes more predictable in each of the ideals it has just berated, and not in a clever or ironic way; Katherine Heigl may as well have taken on of the lead role.
It’s in the opening segment too where Timberlake and Kunis really struggle together, at the time when overpowering animal magnetism is meant to be making it impossible for them to stay off each other. The leads have absolutely no chemistry when they first start enjoying the benefits, and while they improve towards the end, really every other relationship is much more believable than theirs, the one the entire movie is based around.
Nothing more typifies this more than a two-minute date sequence between Kunis and a doctor (Greenberg) she meets in passing. They merely share a dinner, a couple of brief drinks and then spend the night together on date #5, but every second of it is far more captivating and believable than any dialogue between Kunis and Justin Timberlake. And the dialogue throughout is even quite good, nay the script even feels snappy and entertaining, it’s just nothing is delivered to that standard, by the once-pop star in particular.
Timberlake is poor throughout; he’s just not interesting enough to play a male lead, and certainly doesn’t have anything like the charisma to pull off this sort of generic role. And his often wimpy voice only undermines that further. Mila Kunis on the other hand is at last stepping into her potential. After Black Swan and a few other role, she’s ever watchable on-screen, and although Friends With Benefits is hardly going to win her an Oscar, she does all she’s asked with aplomb. That said, in side-roles, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Jenna Elfman do just as much in a bare 10 minutes of screentime each.
With barely a handful of laughs the whole film (and all of those driven by side-characters) and so much product placement it’s off-putting, Friends With Benefits was falling before the fact it fails to ever explore the core concept of the entire film. In the end it becomes 90 minutes of clichéd emotions and predictable plot developments. Did we really need another lacklustre chick-flick to throw on the now towering pile? Debateable.