Ahhhh, the illusive friend with benefits. Desired by many, possessed by few. Lets face it, unless you’re a professional athlete, government official, or Oprah, finding a woman willing to sleep with you sans an emotional commitment will come with so much extra baggage that even Southwest would charge a fee. “Friends with Benefits” takes this perspective as two people who seemingly have everything they could possibly want including looks, money, jobs, and confidence complain dating is just so darn difficult that they'd rather just have sex no strings attached.
It helps that these two people are Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis). Jamie is a headhunter who spent a year recruiting Dylan to come and be the art director of GQ magazine, and as they meet, naturally, Jamie is involved in some adorable-female-protagonist-business. In this case, hopping up on the baggage return to grab a make shift sign she wrote in lipstick. Adorable. This business exists soley to allow the male protagonist to catch her in a vulnerable state and smile, the awkward nature of the situation serving as the spark for a budding friendship.
Curious is the beginning of the film, in which Dylan and Jamie watch a romantic comedy on DVD, and proclaim how much they hate typical movie cliches. All of which promptly follow. Eventually they agree to be just friends and shack up without commitment. These scenes are great. I haven't laughed this much during sex since Prom. The funniest moments come when Jamie and Dylan are interacting and enjoying each other's company above and below the sheets.
Everything else is uneven. Woody Harrelson plays a gay co-worker of Dylan's. I know he's gay because he mentions it every 45 seconds. Does casting a straight actor to play a gay character who makes gay jokes still count as politically incorrect? The cinematography is decent, Director Will Gluck is in love with crane shots and really has a thing for New York City. And I have a hard time believing Dylan or Jamie have any real work to do outside of what the plot calls for.
Also present is all the broad and pseudo empowering horsepucky that gets tossed around in the way of dialog “I can’t...She doesn’t like me like that, okay!” “She’s too damaged...emotionally” and “You have to go get her!” and “When you find the one, you shouldn't let her slip away” and so on. Folks almost always know what we should do. We just don't know how to do it most of the time.
I was also a bit disturbed by the inclusion of Alzheimer disease as a plot point. Admittedly, Dylan’s dad has the cute and cuddly version of Alzheimer’s, where he looks just a little dazed sometimes, and all the really gruesome stuff is handled in expository dialog like “He has startling moments of lucidity”, and, of course, he’s sentient at just the right time to make a big speech to Dylan, just in time to move us into the climax.
The barometer I hold romantic comedies to is the excellent “The Adjustment Bureau” from this past winter. That film saw Matt Damon and Emily Blunt actually meet. Actually court. Actually yearn for one another. It was a visual and sort of sexy movie. Friends with Benefits is movie where all they do is talk at one another and flash a$$.
I guess I don't know what to say other than Friends With Benefits is entirely serviceable. It's schmaltzy and hokey and dances just around the edges of being something just maybe a little a special primarily on the strength of the two leads, but it doesn't. If you toss in the so painfully awkward and depressing and unintentionally thought provoking subplot involving Dylan's dad, I'm at a loss. Actually, bring your boyfriend/girlfriend. Kiss her when JT and Mila ain't.