Movie #21: Friends With Benefits

Every time I watch a rom-com, I wonder why. It’s not that I don’t like them (I used to claim that), but more because they’re so formulaic that it’s almost like watching the same movie again. From the start, I knew that Friends With Benefits would follow the formula. Even though young, successful, big-city hotties Mila Kunis (she’s a head-hunter living in NYC) and Justin Timberlake (he’s an art director that she recruits from LA to work for GQ) try to stay “friends with benefits” (i.e. sex without the romance/love), they are going to fall in love by the end. Is that a spoiler? No, I hope not. I watch each new rom-com (not that I watch every rom-com… I’m actually extremely selective) looking to see how the dialogue, performances, chemistry, humour is more enjoyable than the previous rom-com. (Please forgive the indulgent use of the term “rom-com”; my fingers are just lazy.) To that end, this one does a very good job (near flawless) of following the formula. When Timberlake’s Dylan Harper arrives at the airport, Kunis’s Jamie Rellis is climbing around the baggage carousel and they meet-cute (even though they’re not a couple — yet). They have pretty good chemistry, though they seem too much like friends (very similar in personality) rather than a couple. They quickly spend a lot of time together (which makes me wonder why neither of them have any other friends — another plot contrivance). Dylan has a gay sports-editor colleague played by Woody Harrelson, but Jamie apparently only had a ton of friends when she was throwing a casual party that Dylan stumbled upon, but by the next scene: poof, they’re gone. Along with Harrelson, another thing going for this movie is the cast of side characters and cameos. There’s a clever opening scene with Andy Samberg and (the awesome) Emma Stone making cameos as exes to our main couple. Playing Jamie’s free-spirited mother is (the amazing) Patricia Clarkson, and as Dylan’s dad and sister are (the wonderful) Richard Jenkins and (the loveable) Jenna Elfman. There are also some cute cameos from Masi Oka, Jason Segel, and Rashida Jones. So, does it seem like they’re throwing some pretty good ingredients into this sundae? The cherry on top might be (the precocious) Nolan Gould (Luke on Modern Family) as Dylan’s magic-performing nephew, Sam. The story line is pretty by-the-numbers: the two get closer, then meet each others’ families, then just as they get too close something happens to pull them apart (thankfully it was not the tired, “walking in on the other person kissing someone else” scene), but after heart-to-hearts with their support characters, and grand gestures (Warning: this movie contains flash-mobs, so avert your eyes to avoid choreography-induced seizures), they end up together as we knew they would. There is a small attempt at being “meta” by discussing rom-coms within a rom-com, but this film is not so artistically ambitious. Overall I was pretty charmed by this movie. I don’t know that my life is any richer, or that I am any wiser about the ways of love and relationships for having seen it, but at least I have a new appreciation for “Closing Time”, Kriss Kross, and Wii Tennis. (4 out of 5)

21 down, 29 to go!

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2 thoughts on “Movie #21: Friends With Benefits”

  1. Don’t forget, this movie came out mere months after No Strings Attached. This is what I believe the is called Dualing in the industry. This is where different (or even the same) studios put out two very similar movies around the same time, kind of like a consumer one-two punch.

  2. Thanks, Matt. I had forgotten about No Strings Attached. I realize that Hollywood is always coming out with two similar movies at the same time (didn’t know it was called “dualing”, though, so thanks for the vocab lesson). I wonder which movie was better. I’m a big Natalie Portman fan, but not so much Ashton Kutcher.

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