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Friends With Benefits: Great Friends, Little Benefit

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

I abhor romantic comedies!  Sure I’ll see them as an objective film reviewer (at least I hope I am) but their trite storylines and emphasis on marriage are ridiculous in my eyes.  So the question is raised: why did I decide to see Friends with Benefits, the new romantic comedy out this weekend?  The answer is director Will Gluck.  Gluck has made two really enjoyable movies, one of which was the best of 2010 in my opinion, in Fired Up and Easy A.  The film also included an R-rating, a first in Gluck’s filmography since his past efforts were PG-13.  Unfortunately this film falls slightly above No Strings Attached, practically a carbon copy of this film that premiered at the beginning of the year.  With soapy storylines and a fear of actually delving into realism the film is a disappointment and a shame considering the talent behind it.  

Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) are work friends who are both suffering from a recent end to their respective relationships.  They’ve both been labeled  “damaged” so they decide to become friends with benefits to get over their issues and still have fun.  As the two start to open up to each other, and meet each others families, they start to wonder if a relationship would ever work, and if sex without love is even a possibility.

Friends with Benefits is probably a better film than the aforementioned No Strings Attached but only by a thread.  The characters Jamie and Dylan are engaging, funny, and actually written as human beings.  Their relationship doesn’t start by having them built on archetypes seen in romantic comedies.  Jamie isn’t waiting for marriage and whining about how if she isn’t married soon she’ll be a spinster nor is Dylan a player or a doormat waiting for his opposite in a female.  They spend their time watching movies, discussing the issues in relationships, and ultimately how romantic comedies get it wrong every time.  Their issues are also realistic and dangerous to any relationship they take on, from Dylan’s problems with his father to Jamie’s abandonment issues.  By the end credits the two aren’t cured of their problems, they simply find a way to co-exist with them.  If anything these characters are saved by whatever relationship they have, they just make the decision to go through life together no matter as what.  The movie’s first hour is also where the R-rating comes into play with a slew of raunchy sex scenes and overabundance of crude language, it‘s also where the best jokes are.

Sadly, this movie disappointed me in numerous ways.  I love Gluck’s past films but the director seemed to get cold feet with his story and simply fell back on what worked with past movies.  Friends with Benefits is another in a long line of films this year that suffer from building up the first hour with raunch and failing to take the characters as far as they can go.  Jamie and Dylan build up the first hour as an anti-romance, discussing how romantic comedies have built up the idea that women are manipulators and men must make grand gestures in order to secure love.  By the end though FWB falls on doing everything they mentioned is wrong.  Dylan ends the film with a grand gesture at Grand Central Station while Jamie gives him the silent treatment and makes him read her mind.  For two characters that hate romantic comedies they sure follow the book to the letter.  This ruins any sense of suspense and makes the film look hypocritical and afraid of thinking outside the box.  

The second half also becomes incredibly dry and sad with a look at Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins) who suffers from Alzheimer’s.  After an hour of raunchy humor and sex the pace grinds to nothing as you slog through tears and a relationship between father and son that never seems genuine.  By the end of all this Jamie ends up being the bad guy, labeled as too damaged to even be in a relationship (this is Mila Kunis…pretty sure guys would get over a daddy complex that isn’t even that overt).  I didn’t understand why Jamie ends up being the troubled one as Dylan’s life is probably worse than hers.  It seemed like Gluck was dumping everything on Jamie to make her that female character audiences expect.  

This need for expectation also falls to the usage of the R-rating.  Compared to something like Bridesmaids the R-rating is really pointless in this film.  Sure there’s copious amounts of side boob and rear ends but the language feels uncomfortable between Timberlake and Kunis and doesn’t seem to say anything expect “these people can curse.”  The worst abuse is in the first five minutes where everyone from Emma Stone to Andy Samburg are dropping the F-bomb like Skittles.  After seeing where the R-rating can come in handy Gluck needs to stick to PG-13.  It also seems like he should stick to a smaller budget as all the “cool” things are overkill from an extensive use of iPads to two repetitive flash mob sequences.  

The cast assembled tries to make up for the films flaws but even they can only do so much.  Kunis is delightful as Jamie.  Jamie is a character who knows what she wants.  She’s who every girl wishes they were, a realistic woman who still believes in true love despite knowing its not logical.  When Kunis turns on the smile or the charm everyone, female or male, falls in love.  She says every line with a sly grin and is a definite girl’s girl and guy’s girl.  Timberlake is also solid as Dylan.  He doesn’t get as meaty of a role as Kunis but he is likeable and sweet.  Richard Jenkins continues to break hearts in mentally unstable father roles, here playing Timberlake’s father.  His character gets short shrift but he takes a small role and makes it memorable.  

Friends with Benefits is a film that tries to mock romantic comedies before slapping the audience in the face with how typical it is.  The characters are fun in the beginning, but much like sex without a relationship, it peters out into lethargy and emotional issues.  Had the movie been bold enough to enter into anti-romance territory it could have soared, instead it’s another forgettable romantic comedy in a long line of many.

Final Grade: