Sometimes you start them knowing exactly what you’re getting. Other times they surprise you. Most of the time, however — and this is the case with Friends With Benefits — it’s a little of both.
Friends With Benefits is about two attractive, smart, otherwise successful people, played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, both coming off breakups in Los Angeles and New York respectively. Kunis plays a corporate headhunter, Jamie, who has to lure Dylan (Timberlake) to New York to become the new art director at GQ magazine. They quickly become friends over their mutual hobby of being extremely witty.
And still sore from their last breakups they decide to fulfill their carnal needs with care-free, casual friend sex. I don’t know if you’ve heard from all the other Hollywood movies, but that doesn’t always work out. But guess what? They still end up together despite their flaws. Awww.
But you expect that, and that’s fine. What really surprised me is the chemistry that Timberlake and Kunis have together. They really make this movie. Without them, this movie is just a cliché. It’s still cliché, but it’s a cliché with so much charisma and the aforementioned chemistry that it’s impossible to dislike, similar to how director Will Gluck’s earlier effort Easy A was lifted up by Emma Stone.
Gluck doesn’t break pace either, Friends With Benefits moves quickly and effortlessly. Where there isn’t that rapid fire banter, there is a stream of pop culture references. The movie only slows down to give some background on Dylan and Jamie’s families. Dylan and his sister have to deal with his father’s Alzheimer’s, leading to a nice moment with Dylan and his father (Richard Jenkins) in an airport restaurant. Jenkins brings a nice sober sense to the movie, which contrasts well with the rest of the film.
Jamie’s mother (her father is unknown) is a hippie whose primary purpose in the movie is comic relief. However, when her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, has to double as Jamie’s source of emotional damage, it falls flat and Jamie’s damage comes off as insincere, the way someone’s greatest weakness is working too hard when they’re being interviewed.
The rest of the supporting cast is great, mainly Woody Harrelson who plays the sports editor at GQ and is exactly what you would expect out of that position, a fratty man’s man all about chasing tail but very openly gay, and very funny.
The whole movie is painted over with a tint of satire and self-awareness, the peak of which is a fake movie starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones that provides more than a few laughs. However, everything the movie mocks, it ends up doing itself so it doesn’t come off as satirical. But the jokes feel too rough to be simple homage.
What you end up with is a movie that is too self-aware that it’s just like all the other rom-coms out there. Which, not surprisingly, is true. But while it might not succeed in being as genre-busting as it tries to be, it is better than your average summer rom-com.