The last movie to reach us from director Will Gluck was Easy A, an enjoyable comedy that was both a sharp teen comedy as well as a homage to the teen comedies of the past. Friends With Benefits is an enjoyable romantic comedy that plays both as a straight rom-com and also as an affectionate poke at the classic rom-com journeys.
I don’t really feel that I have to say all that much about the plot. People complained that Friends With Benefits was just the same idea as No Strings Attached (reviewed for Flickfeast by Chris Knipp here) but I haven’t seen the latter movie and so cannot comment on that. Superficially, however, they certainly share a core idea of two people (in this case it’s Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) wondering whether or not two people can just help each other out by being sexual partners without the accompanying hassles of relationship stuff. Friends and family pop up to comment on things and make the two leads question their relationship and things wind pleasantly enough to a climax that you know won’t shock you and won’t change the face of modern cinema as we know it. But it’s a lot of fun along the way.
Much like Gluck’s previous movie, Friends With Benefits gains a huge bonus from a script that mixes smart and dumb with a bit of bawdiness in there. The script, co-written by Gluck working with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, is full of enjoyable one-liners, enjoyable characters and just enough of the standard Hollywood “serious” moments to spur everyone along to an acceptable conclusion.
The acting is just fine for this type of movie. Timberlake makes for a very likeable male lead while Kunis is more than his equal, they’re both also easy on the eye and the chemistry between them works. In the supporting roles, Patrica Clarkson plays a free-spirited mother to Kunis while Richard Jenkins plays Timberlake’s ailing father. Two quality performers giving two quality, though tonally opposite, performances. Then there’s Jenna Elfman being more likeable here than she ever was when she was being pushed as a potential leading lady about ten years ago. Woody Harrelson is a lot of fun as the gay male trying to convince Timberlake that he can see trouble ahead, despite his different perspective on the situation. Cameos from the likes of Andy Samberg, Emma Stone, Shaun White, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones all help add to the fun.
The little moments that you know are being pointed out because they just might end up being called back to somewhere in the last half hour, the bouncy soundtrack, the slick pacing and warm glow keeping anything that’s a bit too dark and edgy at bay – this movie does all that. It does it very well and it manages this even as the characters point out how “standard romantic comedies” manipulate audiences with all of those tricks and standards. Which makes it a little bit braver than most. But still for those who want something safe.
DIRECTOR: WILL GLUCK
STARS: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, MILA KUNIS, PATRICIA CLARKSON, RICHARD JENKINS, WOODY HARRELSON, JENNA ELFMAN
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX