Needless to say, upon entering the cinema, I wasn’t so much expecting little as expecting to have to sit through 2 hours of laughless clichés wondering how the studio figured “hey, this story hasn’t been told yet, let’s make it”. But, as it happens, Friends With Benefits actually provides a host of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, echoing screwball comedies of the past, as it sprawls through a non-plot, continuously mocking the regular form of the romantic comedy.
Kunis and Timberlake sparkle on-screen together, not in a fake vampire way like Twilight but with a genuine chemistry rarely seen in movies, especially the rom-com genre. Kunis plays a corporate headhunter who sets out to bring art director Timberlake on board at the men’s magazine GQ. The two quickly become friends before they decide to bring some, as the title suggests, benefits into their relationship. The pair decide, after watching and maligning a cliché heavy movie-within-a-movie starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segel (hilarious BTdubs), to have sex without any romantic or emotional involvement. Before you start, no, you won’t go to see this movie for the outlandish, twisty, gripping plot. Kunis proves she’s a superb comedian, delivering lines like the snap of a whip and although Timberlake does extremely well, you do feel like Kunis is in a league of her own here.
The next hour plays out like a montage of hilarious clips from their sex and professional lives, with dialogue delivered at an almost brash pace. The pair have a very direct, unfeeling attitude towards sex, guiding each other towards their erogenous zones and sharing their quirks. We meet Kunis’s mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, who provides some of the more lewd, cringe-worthy moments as the absent-minded, still living with ’60s sensibilities and attitudes towards relationships, friend-parent. Particular note must go to Woody Harrelson as Tommy, the sports editor at GQ, who plays gay really unconventionally, yet laugh-out-loud and, strangely, believable.
Unfortunately, the movie takes a sharp downhill turn upon a trip back to Dylan’s (Timberlake) family home in California. He brings Jamie (Kunis) along, and we see the plot take a more serious angle with the introduction of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins), the possible source of Dylan’s recent emotional stunting. The dramatic change would be fine if it were a different movie, but it comes off too heavy handed and plot device-y for my liking. The trip also brings about the first signs of emotional attachment in Kunis and Timberlake’s relationship. It also stretches the film by about 30 minutes. Which is 30 minutes the overlong movie could have done without. After that the film plays out like the movies it has spent the rest of its time mocking: predictable, clichéd and, well, boring.
Overall, the movie was bawdy, laugh-out-loud, well cast and with very strong performances throughout. It was overlong by about half an hour. What could have made this movie slightly better was if it stuck with its original plan to fully reject the clichéd Hollywood romantic comedies instead of ultimately falling into mush come the ending. But there are still far worse ways to spend a Friday evening.
The film is released here on September 9th.