Movie Review Monday: Friends With Benefits

Mike Finkelstein has a best friend.  She’s a girl.  They argue about how far they could take their relationship before things get complicated.  The argument ends in a draw.  To finally decide who is right, the two head to the movies.  Here is Mike’s review for “Friends With Benefits”

PLOT: After Jamie (Mila Kunis) recruits Dylan (Justin Timberlake) for a job in New York, the two become fast friends.  When they both admit that they’re fed up with relationships, they decide to keep things simple: become friends with benefits, and have sex with no strings attached.  Soon enough, feelings get involved, and things get complicated…

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: Romantic comedies.  In the jumbled up mess that is their genre, there are only a few that really stand out as unique: WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, SERENDIPITY, and LOVE ACTUALLY, just to name a few.  So why not make one that hates on the ridiculousness and shuns all the clichés…while going through all the familiar motions at the same time?

That’s what makes FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS so charming: It’s not afraid to make complete fun of itself and its peers.  From its first moments, ripping on George Clooney and Katherine Heigl (yeah…THE UGLY TRUTH wasn’t very good…) to tearing apart all things wrong with the fake rom-com movie within the movie, you laugh, for no better reason than you know they’re completely right.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) are in on this wonderful joke.  Both recently broken up with (some great little cameos by Emma Stone and Andy Samberg), neither want a relationship and just want to have sex—play some tennis, if you will.  And when you look as good and are as smooth talking as Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, of course it’s going to happen.

What follows is an onslaught of hysterical and honest raunchiness amidst the background of New York City, with both parties calling out as many idiosyncrasies of sex as possible within the 90 minute time frame.  Both guys and girls will be laughing when certain ones hit home and you realize they’re completely right yet again.

But, obviously, like any romantic comedy, the two leads start developing feelings for each other.  And then comes the making love and the hurt and the reconciliation, and the by-the-books third act we all knew was coming.  Yes, it’s predictable, sometimes over-the-top, and we know what’s going to happen, but by that point, we’re so invested in these amusing characters and their truths that we just decide to go with it.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have the chemistry needed to carry a romantic comedy.   They are cute and playful together, and you feel that connection.  Kunis slips perfectly into the role, one very reminiscent of Rachel in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.  And while Timberlake definitely had his moments where it felt like he was “acting”, his smooth ways and charisma shined through overall.  I still think he’s one of the most talented performers of his generation, and give him a lot of credit for really trying to hone his acting skills through different movies instead of riding the coattails of his music.  He gets better with every film he’s in.

What also helps us get so invested in those two is the supporting cast backing them up. We get just enough of everybody (especially the family members) to give both Jamie and Dylan a bit more depth without getting carried away.  Woody Harrelson steals every scene as Dylan’s very out of the closet co-worker.  He goes from offensive to cordial in about five seconds, and it’s hysterical.  Patricia Clarkson brought a lot of hippie humor and fun to Jamie’s liberated, drunken mother, but still gave enough intensity to show the serious problems Jamie had to go through when she was younger.  Jenna Elfman, whom I haven’t really seen since “Dharma and Greg” was a wonderful little surprise as Dylan’s charming sister (and Nolan Gould was precious as her magic-obsessed son).  And finally, more than anybody, Richard Jenkins deserves a special mention for playing Dylan’s Alzheimer’s inflicted father.  Yes, maybe the plot was processed and overly sentimental, and the moments of clarity were too convenient and perfectly timed, but I saw the guy trying to hold on to his sanity and be thought of as normal, and it was heartbreaking to see him falling apart.

In the end, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS really isn’t anything new when it comes to the romantic comedy.  Hell, only a few months ago, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman were trying to pull off the same concept, and two decades ago, Harry told Sally “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way!”  But the movie is well shot, funny, quickly paced, and has no problem making fun of itself, sex, and all its brothers and sisters, and that makes it stand out among a boatload of other bad stuff.  If you’re going out for a date, and want something light, funny and beautiful to look at (in both scenery/shots and actor eye candy), go check out FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS.

GRADE: B+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) SUPPORTING ROLES: Every supporting actor here deserves a nod.  Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, and Woody Harrelson all did an amazing job bringing some flavor and fun to Dylan and Jamie’s universe.  Also, Nolan Gould was adorable as Dylan’s magic-loving nephew.

2) PICKING ON ITSELF: It’s a romantic comedy.  It has the beats of a romantic comedy.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t hate on and make fun of those ridiculous beats.  Especially with palm trees in New York…

3) SEX TRUTHS: Inappropriate to write, but there are more than a few points that’ll hysterically hit home for guys and girls…”It’s like two cars merging in rush hour traffic!”

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) TIMBERLAKE SOMEWHAT FORCED: I love Timberlake.  I think he’s one of the most talented guys in the business right now.  But there were certain lines in there where he felt so forced.

2) SHAUN WHITE: Completely unnecessary.  It was the standard “someone famous being an ass” cameo, except it just felt strained and completely unnatural.  Ha ha.  Funny.  It’s been done.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake and Patricia Clarkson all appeared in the SNL Digital Short for the song “Motherlover”. Clarkson played Timberlake’s mother in it…

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