Friends With Benefits

21 Feb

Director: Will Gluck (2011)

For a film that sells itself on the fact that the two quirky and likeable protagonists are trying to avoid the clichés of romance movies, it spends an awful lot of time playing straight into the hands of the genre. Only with more nudity. A lot of nudity. From both parties.

Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a feisty New York headhunter whose daddy issues have led her to choose increasingly dickish boyfriends who fail to scratch her itch. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is a cool web guy from LA who is seduced by a late night tour of New York and an incredibly well timed flash mob in Times Square to accept a job at GQ. Both have just been dumped by more comedy favourites, Emma Stone and Andy Samberg so it makes sense that when filling such big boots they’d be drawn to one another as worthy future partners. But of course two people this beautiful are never going to be ‘just friends’. They need more benefits other than being ridiculously good looking.

The title pretty much tells you all you need to know, and exactly what you expect. Complaining how she is gagging for it all the time, Jamie and Dylan use a loose tennis metaphor to convince themselves that two friends can have sex and it won’t affect their friendship or get complicated by feelings. We all know this is simply not true. Or it may be true but in the confines of a film of this ilk it won’t be true but thankfully they’ll fall in love for realsies and all will be well in the world of the beautiful people.

So they start having the sex and all is wonderful and naked with none of those crazy feelings that just mess it all up. Gluck manages to avoid the pitfalls of cringey sex scenes opting for the lighthearted and comic approach of the Appatow vein than anything awkwardly forced sensuality. After all they are just two mates hooking up, no need for soft lighting.

My main problem with the film however is less about the screenplay or the characters – you’re not going in to this film with Oscar winning aspirations- but more its message. Considering how much Jamie persists that romance films are wrong and a false representation of real life she seems to spend a significant amount of time being upset when life isn’t like it is in the movies. And then being very happy when it is. Apparently all us women really want is a flash mob. And Third Eye Blind. While this might be fine if we were to presume Jamie was a bit of a flake, instead it casts a strange shadow of failed irony over the narrative, particularly in the parody chick flick (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones) that runs throughout the film.

Despite the unnecessary sub plots about our couple’s family problems, Friends With Benefits doesn’t take itself too seriously resulting in a fun look at the holy grail of impossible sex agreements with a great cast including an underused Woody Harrelson as a gay sports editor. Pleasing to the eye but not so much to the brain. Or the feminist cause. Or sadly the reality of relationships in any way.

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