In a cinematic landscape full of poor romantic comedies, Friends with Benefits should be seen as a breath of fresh air. It’s funny, raunchy and it has a big heart, even if it does amount to little more than an amalgamation of those that have come before it, borrowing everything from its central premise (think No Strings Attached) to its most insignificant, said-in-passing plot points (one character moved around a lot as a child when her mother broke up with her boyfriends, like in The Perfect Man). It doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre, that’s for sure, but it works nevertheless because of its witty writing and charismatic leads.
As the film begins, Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake), who don’t yet know each other, are being dumped by their partners. The reasons behind the break-ups are ridiculous and even a little hurtful, so they both decide they’re done with relationships. At some point later, Dylan, an LA boy, flies out to New York for an interview at GQ Magazine, set up by “headhunter” Jamie and lands the job. Because he’s new to the town, he strikes up a friendship with Jamie, which inevitably leads to physical intimacy. But because of their pasts, they both agree that’s where it should begin and end. They will be friends with benefits, nothing more.
Friends with Benefits is one of those hipster, self-aware movies that seem to be all the rage these days. It references other romantic comedies, the characters watch them and at one point, Jamie even mentions wanting her life to be like one, admitting she approaches relationships based off them. In one hilarious bit, Dylan even ridicules the obligatory upbeat pop songs these films so often have. If one thing can be said about it, Friends with Benefits knows it’s a romantic comedy, but that self-awareness doesn’t go further like it should (it doesn’t spoof the genre the way, say, Scream did to horror); it merely acknowledges the clichés before acting them out. And there are plenty of upbeat pop songs.
So it follows the formula of your typical romantic comedy, which includes the girl-sees-how-good-guy-is-with-family and ailing-family-member-momentarily-overcomes-illness-to-speak-words-of-wisdom scenes, but it works nonetheless because it dares to go places other movies won’t, taking its two talented and good looking stars and allowing them to say and do things that will make even the least prude audience member blush. It’s the type of humor that those with life experience will be able to understand, including a great (and truthful) joke that will speak to the men in the audience who understand how difficult it is to…well, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable typing it here.
Of course, most romantic comedies succeed or fail on the chemistry (or lack thereof) of its two leads. In this regard, Friends with Benefits soars. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are so good together, it seems a shame the two aren’t a couple in real life (though there have been rumors). At times, the film runs the risk of losing us thanks to its egregious product placement of things like the Playstation Move, which sticks out like a sore thumb due to the incandescent wand the characters hold and wave around (giving the placement of T.G.I. Friday’s in the recent Zookeeper a run for its money), but it always manages to win us back. It’s funny, good natured, fun and it includes not one, but two well choreographed flashmob performances. And who doesn’t want to see that?
Friends with Benefits receives 4/5