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Friends with Benefits: Bi-polar Comedy Starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis Mocks Cliches


Friends with Benefits: Bi-polar comedy produces mockery of romantic comedy clichés while ultimately becoming what it deconstructs. friends with benefits

Friends with Benefits wants to be the anti-romantic comedy of its time, and that is a tricky feat indeed. Buoyed by a spunky, energetic performance from Mila Kunis and a plethora of sharp writing, this comedy succeeds for a while in its task only to fall back onto the heavy clichés it so earnestly mocks.

Will Gluck, who conjured up a major hit with the teen comedy Easy A, gives his authentic stamp to the material, so there’s plenty of overly witty characters, comic scenarios, and fresh young appeal. This effort is far more flawed, but with some tweaking, he could become the comic voice of a young generation.

The opening of Friends with Benefits covers not one but two breakups, courtesy of quick fire editing. Jamie (Kunis), is told that she is emotionally damaged and has big eyes. Dylan (Justin Timberlake), is snapped at for being emotionally unavailable and for being late to a John Mayer concert. Both dumpees seem to take the news rather well, just chalking it up to another relationship of many that has gone sour.

Meanwhile, Jamie, who’s a hardcore headhunter in NYC, recruits web guru Dylan for a big wig position at famed magazine GQ. The two meet in the big apple, and hit it off immediately, though Dylan is very skittish about leaving the laid back style of Los Angeles behind. After a night of adventures through the city, Dylan is convinced, accepts the offer, and moves across the coast to New York.

At first the two share a platonic bond filled with late night rendezvous, coffee, and partying. Then one drunken evening Dylan suggests they take their relationship to a new platform. He proposes they still remain great friends, just with sex thrown on. After laying down the groundwork with some rules, Jamie agrees, and the two swear on oath, with both hands placed on an I-Pad bible app (Yes, they have an app for that).

What follows is a hilarious sex scene that the film never manages to top in terms of candid sexual content. Both players engage in a variety of explicit positions as both try to get each other off. The commentary on the art of pleasuring both male and female sex organs is brilliantly realized, and both Kunis and Timberlake’s comic timing is pro.

From there, the film starts a slow downward spiral. The self-referential jabs and cleverness start to cave in to predictable routine romantic comedy traps. By the time someone’s mentally ill father shows up in the third act, along with the inevitable big blowout between the two lovers, the movie has seriously lost its comic footing.

The entire cast shines, with the two leads showing palpable chemistry. Timberlake spends some significant time in the buff while fans of Kunis will have to settle for a butt double (sorry dudes!). Kunis literally attacks the screen, and her ferocious energy should have come off exhausting, but instead it’s endearing due to her talents. Patricia Clarkson is great trashy fun as Jamie’s absentee mother, as well is Jenna Elfman in an understated role as Dylan’s sister.

Director Will Gluck has a hard time keeping the film tonally in check, unlike his breezy aforementioned Easy A. Things start off raunchy and end up sappy, not to mention just like every other romantic comedy out there. Also, his spitfire dialogue flies at such a fast clip that it eventually tests the viewer’s patience. Still, faults aside, there are plenty of laughs, a good heart, and two leads to really root for. Friends with Benefits doesn’t re-invent the wheel as promised, but it’s still good enough for a long term commitment.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Pictures Courtesy of Sony