When I first saw the trailer for the new film “Friends with Benefits” I could help but think, “Haven't I see this movie already? It came out back in January and was called 'No Strings Attached' , and it was a confused mess.” That's right, two movies in the same year with the same sex-without-emotional-attachment concept both starring members of the cast of “That 70's Show”. “But hey,” I thought, “At least it will be fun to write a bad review of it.” Of course what I didn't know is that it was directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A”); had I known that I might have gone in with higher expectations.
Mila Kunis (“The Book of Eli”) plays Jamie, a corporate recruiter who is trying to lure Dylan (Justin Timberlake: “The Social Network”) to New York to interview for a position with GQ magazine. She manages to win him over, and he trades his Los Angeles life for a new home in New York.
Of course the only person that Dylan knows in New York, aside from his new employees, is Jamie, and seeing as neither of them have much luck with dating due to their various personality issues they begin to hang out regularly. After a night of drinking and watching a hilariously bad romantic comedy (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones from ”I Love You, Man”) the discussion turns to sex as an activity instead of as an expression of emotion. The discussion quickly turns to an action, and the pair's emotion-free relationship begins.
“Friends With Benefits” wants to be to romantic comedies what the original “Scream” was to horror films; it completely takes the piss out of the genre while still being faithful to it. “No Strings Attached” sort of tried to do this by including ever RomCom trope ever into one film, and it ended up being a complete mess of a film, but this movie finds its focus and sticks with it. There are no zany best friends in this film, no beta couple, no jerkass trying to steal the heart of one of the main couple; it's just two people trying to be best friends who just happen to have sex with each other... a lot.
Of course the lack of wacky best friends and beta couples doesn't mean there is no supporting cast; there's a very strong one in fact. Through the course of the film we get to meet Jamie's mother (Patricia Clarkson: “Easy A”, Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins : “Six Feet Under”, “Hall Pass”), sister (Jenna Elfman: “Dharma and Greg), and nephew (Nolan Gould: “Modern Family”). Of course it would'nt be right to not mention who might be the funniest actor in the entire film: Woody Harrelson (”Zombieland”) as Tommy, GQ's manic sports editor.
There are also a lot of really fun cameos sprinkled throughout the film. Aside from Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, keep an eye our for appearances by Masi Oka (“Heroes”), Andy Samberg (”I Love You, Man”), Emma Stone (”Zombieland”, “Easy A”), and a very unusual appearance by Olympic athlete Shaun White.
While this movie is not ultimately as good as “Easy A”, it does manage to keep some of the fast-paced humour, as well as a loving willingness to mock its own genre. The movie's only real weakness is when they try to cram some conflict into the film. Even this stuff is entertaining, but it does not feel particularly natural, and it has a negative effect on the quality of the story.
At 109 minutes, “Friends With Benefits” is probably longer than it should be, but chances are that you'll be enjoying it enough to not notice. Its a fast, funny, crude movie that eschews Easy A's walking of the PG-13 boundaries for full-on R rated language and even a bit of nudity (and not all of it Justin Timberlake's arse). What it's not however is a must see. Compared to “No Strings Attached” it's an absolute masterpiece, but taken on its own it's nothing to get too excited about. I don't suggest paying full theater dollars for this, but it is certainly worth giving a rent.
“Friends With Benefits” is in theaters now.