Friends With Benefits

This is how you do a romantic comedy.

Admittedly, I tend to hate this genre. Films of this ilk tend to be overly sentimental, at times mean-spirited, and don’t generally earn the emotions they supposedly generate (break ’em down and you might realize how cynical and warped some of them are about “love” – it’s just a product to be sold, kids). All of this makes Friends With Benefits a compelling movie. Not only did I enjoy seeing it, I actually liked it.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis play two young professionals who have both been recently dumped. He’s been called “emotionally unavailable” and she’s been accused of being “emotionally damaged.” Both have had enough of the heartbreak of a traditional relationship and are looking for something different: sex, without emotion (or as Timberlake explains it, the emotional equivalent of playing a game of tennis). It’s not entirely a novel concept (i.e. No Strings Attached just came out what – five months ago?) but what director Will Gluck and his cast do with the plot is surprisingly clever, entertaining, and – dare I say it – sensitive.

The film is filled with lengthy (and rather explicit) sex sequences. Guys – you will see Mila Kunis’ a Body Double’s ass. You will also see Timberlake’s ass…that one’s for you, ladies. There’s oral sex, handjobs, girl-on-top, missionary, etc. This isn’t the type of flick to take your Grandmother to, in other words. But what’s refreshing about the sequences is the comedy involved. Sex scenes are notoriously shot with soapy lenses, a soft rock soundtrack, and swooping camera movements that seemingly capture everything and nothing. Friends With Benefits mostly avoids this cliche (I say mostly because they do fall into the soapy lens trap when the couple friends are making “love,” rather than sex) by capturing the awkward interactions between the two as they chew gum, make small talk, and criticize the other’s techniques.

The film really shines with the chemistry between the two leads and the excellent supporting cast. Timberlake does stumble a bit in the movie’s early reels – he seems unsure of himself while Kunis is entirely in control of her craft – but he manages to become more confident and believable as the movie continues. However, the supporting cast steals the show. Woody Harrelson as an openly gay sports editor gets a laugh in every scene that he’s in, and Richard Jenkins (a criminally underrated performer) as Timberlake’s Alzheimer-afflicted father gives a heartbreaking performance. Only Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’ flaky mother didn’t really impress me (I thought her presence was distracting rather than adding anything to the film), but everyone else has a moment to shine.

This is one funny movie. There’s a minor subplot dealing with Timberlake’s near mentally-challenged efforts at simple arithmetic, there’s a film-within-a-film (a fake over-the-top romantic comedy with Jason Segel and Rashida Jones that the characters mock), and  gay Harry Potter jokes (they’re hysterical). And to top it off, the film earns its sentiment at the end. This isn’t a lightweight comedy, despite what the film, and trailer, would have you think.

Unlike other romantic comedies, Friends With Benefits won’t have you looking in the mirror the next morning feeling ashamed of yourself.

Grade: B-

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4 Responses to Friends With Benefits

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    I will make sure I go to see this one – it fits in nicely with Angie’s thesis, doesn’t it??

  2. Jonathan Kirk says:

    Great review buddy! I’ll check it out. By the way, I’m heading to Toronto this weekend. Any ideas for a good time?

  3. Jonathan Kirk says:

    Great review buddy

    • Modest Movie says:

      Thanks Kirko. As for Toronto – check out Aji Sai Sushi on 467 Queen St W for all-you-can-eat Japanese food (really good), maybe a Jays game, or check out BlogTO or Torontoist for event information of the day.

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