BOTTOM LINE: Funny, raunchy summer rom-com with a hip cast that the under-25 crowd will love.
It’s been a good year for sex. Between No Strings Attached, Hall Pass, and Friends With Benefits, it seems relationships are out and emotion-free fornication is in. Yet regardless of the somewhat stale premise, Friends With Benefits is as enjoyable and down-to-earth of a romantic comedy as you’re going to get in theatres these days. It really amounts to no more than a smartly cast version of No Strings Attached, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
Justin Timberlake stars as Dylan, a talented art director who gets recruited to join GQ by Mila Kunis’ Jamie, an outgoing, charismatic head hunter. Both of them are career-oriented, emotionally stunted individuals who are sick of the complications that come with being in relationships (which we see in the hilarious opening montage of Jamie and Dylan breaking up with their crazy significant others). They bond over this and eventually come up with the perfect solution to their problem: be each other’s — and excuse me for using the term Sony had to censor — fuck buddies.
The story plays out just as you’d expect it to (spoilers ahead if you have never watched a romantic comedy before). Dylan and Jamie’s arrangement works out great at first, but Jamie breaks it off eventually because she wants to start dating. She falls for a doctor who abruptly walks out on her, driving her back into Dylan’s arms, who comforts her as a best friend would. Sometime after that, Dylan takes Jamie home to meet his family, but she leaves, heartbroken, when she overhears him telling his sister that he could never be interested in her as anything more than a friend. He realises he loved her all along and puts together a big stunt to win her back. They live happily ever after.
It’s almost identical to the plot of No Strings Attached, except the male/female roles are slightly reversed. Here’s the dealbreaker, though: Kunis pulls off the sarcastic, hardass bitch role much better than Natalie Portman does. The spunk comes naturally to her, as does the vulnerability underlying her tough exterior. She shines so brightly in her role that we forgive the lukewarm chemistry between her and Timberlake. Timberlake, for the record, is great in his role, too.
Clever cameos by popular actors and comedians add to an already strong cast that also includes Woody Harrselson as Tommy, the flamboyant sports editor of GQ, and Patricia Clarkson as Jamie’s irresponsible mother. Shaun White, Masi Oka, and Nolan Gould are just a few of the film’s highlights. Rashida Jones and Jason Segel are also hilarious as a lovey dovey couple in a movie within the movie.
Friends With Benefits also succeeds because its raunchy humour and cultural references are relatable. Every scene featuring Harrelson is hysterical — he nails the gay jokes without crossing the line into offensive territory. If people don’t “get” the cameos, there are some great one-liners (“Harry Potter doesn’t make you gay!”) that will definitely strike a chord with the 18-24 demographic. Other subtle winks and nudges — such as a sneaky reference to another Screen Gems film, Easy A — keeps the audience engaged, drawing attention away from the straightforward plot and relatively clumsy handling of the dramatic moments.
The best way to sum up Friends With Benefits is that it’s the New York to No Strings Attached‘s Los Angeles: edgier, trendier, and louder, but not necessarily better in any objective way.