Bait and Switch

by Alan Rapp on July 22, 2011

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Friends with Benefits
  • IMDB: link

Friends with BenefitsThe idea of Mila Kunis starring in a raunchy sex comedy from the director who gave us the best male cheerleader recruitment film ever sounded promising. But for a film about casual sex Friends with Benefits, with the exception of a couple of early montages where our two leads spend 90% of their naked time together, is actually kind of impotent.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) meet cute when he comes to New York after she arranges a job interview for him at GQ through her role as a head-hunter. The two hit it off, and when Dylan decides to take the job they become fast friends.

After bonding over past relationship stories and beer one night the pair decide to try and be friends who occasionally use each other for sex. As almost always happens in movies like this things start out great but go downhill fast. This isn’t the first film to try using casual sex as the basis for a relationship film (it’s not even the first one this year), and despite failing rather spectacularly it’s sure not to be the last.

Kunis and Timberlake work well on-screen together, especially when the film takes things light and has its fun as a foul-mouthed sex comedy (i.e. the first 25 minutes of the film). It’s obvious these two belong, and will end up, together to everyone except (you guessed it) them. Maybe I’ve become jaded by sitting through so many of these mindless mechanizations disguised as romance, but is a little common sense and a plot that doesn’t make me want to fashion my popcorn tub into a weapon to gauge my eyes out too much to ask?

The film has a fairly early moment where the pair decide to stop sleeping together and go back to being friends. This unexpected twist was so refreshing I honestly couldn’t believe my luck. This would allow the film to skirt the regular romcom rigmarole by exploring their friendship from an entirely new angle.

Friends with Benefits

I should have known better. Sadly, the script’s chooses to almost immediately journey into braindead romcom territory with all the typical trappings before finding a way to throw these two wacky kinds together in a schmaltzy romantic comedy climax. Sigh.

Kunis and Timberlake’s characters may be likable enough (if at times infuriating), but the rest of the characters come off as cartoonish buffoons including Woody Harrelson as CQ’s gay sports editor and Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’ wacky irresponsible and idiosyncratic mother. The film even includes a annoying semi-celebrity (Shaun White) who keeps popping up doing the same old shtick.

The film starts cute, amps up the into a sex comedy, and then turns quickly into a film about friends who used to sleep together before becoming a romantic comedy. That’s an awful lot to try to fit into a film this poorly written. In between all these stories the film also inserts a trip to Los Angeles to meet Dylan’s family which includes a precocious nephew (Nolan Gould) obsessed with magic, a loving sister (Jenna Elfman), and a father (Richard Jenkins) suffering from Alzheimers. This attempt to make the film feel more like a drama than a typical romcom quickly fails as the outcome of this entire plot thread is used for nothing more than to provide a “humorous” lesson to help get these two wacky kids back together.

Friends with Benefits

I’ve also got to stop and mention the absurdly awful romcom that the characters keep watching and referring to which (surprise, surprise!) informs this film’s big ending. Jason Segel and Rashida Jones star in these scenes that I honestly couldn’t tell whether or not we, or Kunis and Timberlake, are supposed to take seriously. It’s as if a bad sketch comedy group was re-staging an even worse film, but playing straight, and no one is sure whether or not to laugh.

Although it’s funnier than the far too similar No Strings Attached, which came out earlier this year with Kunis’ Black Swan co-star Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, it falls completely off the rails and becomes as bad as the pathetic romantic comedy with Segel and Jones the film keeps making fun of.

What’s being marketed as a raunchy comedy for guys turns out to be nothing more than the kind of romcom your girlfriend has to bribe, or threaten, you to see (and is unlikely to want to see given the tone of the trailer). Congrats to everyone involved, you’ve made a movie no one will like! Had the film stayed with the lighter sex romp or taken the road less traveled by focusing on the attempt at friendship after the booty calls ended you might have had something worth watching. Instead we get a flaccid little film that is best forgotten.

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