Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

DIRECTOR: Will Gluck.

CAST: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Bryan Greenberg, Nolan Gould, Shaun White, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone.

SYNOPSIS: After Jamie (Kunis) headhunts Dylan (Timberlake) for a job at GQ Magazine, the two become best friends after she spends a lot of time showing LA boy Dylan around the Big Apple. The relationship soon becomes physical and they are left answering that eternal question – can bed buddies be best buddies?

After loving every second of 2010’s Easy A, Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits had a lot to live up to. It may not be superior to the Emma Stone-starrer, but it sure as hell tries its hardest and for the most part this pays off. With some brilliant back-and-forth from the minute Dylan and Jamie are introduced, it’s clear that Gluck hasn’t lost his touch with recurring jokes on scientology, John Mayer, Harry Potter and the Hudson River plane landing hitting all the right notes.

Throwing us straight in with Gluck’s token fast-paced style (and with some gloriously delightful in-jokes and nods to Easy A – check out the card Jamie holds up when waiting for Dylan just for starters), we are introduced to Dylan, Jamie and their totally incompatible current partners. Cue the break-ups we saw in the trailer and two very short but sweet cameos from Andy Samberg and Emma Stone. Talking of the trailer, you do get the feeling that you’ve seen the majority of the film before you go in, but this doesn’t take too much away from the film’s fundamental charm.

As much as you may not want to admit it, acting does actually come pretty naturally to the Timberlake. This was firmly established in The Social Network and he barely puts a foot wrong here. Proof is most definitely in the way he is able to keep up with Kunis and the chemistry they share is all too apparent. With the initial sex scenes as brilliantly uncomfortable as they are comic, every day problems like positioning and needing to go to the toilet prove that Timberlake actually is very funny.

Kunis’ Jamie is not your average girl, and you buy her completely as someone who is more than happy to muck in with the guys. And it makes her so damn sexy. She is sparky, a lot of fun, never grating and really does make us wonder what Black Swan co-star Portman was doing in No Strings Attached. Trying to show Dylan that New York isn’t exactly like what he’s seen on Seinfeld, she is ultimately after a fairy tale ending as much as she hates to admit it.

Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson are the kooky comedy sidekicks as GQ’s Sports Editor, Tommy, and Jamie’s cute, if not rather unorthodox, mum. It’s definitely different seeing Harrelson play such a feminine character and Clarkson is once again in her element under Gluck’s direction after such a great role as Olive’s mother in Easy A.

The majority of the second half of the film is set in LA, introducing us to Dylan’s sister Annie (Elfman), his cute little magician nephew (Gould) and his dad (Jenkins). Yes, we are meant to realise that LA is far more relaxed than New York, but although the script is still highly engaging, this transition does slow the film down a little when it is so in its element when fast-paced. A storyline concerning Dylan’s father doesn’t necessarily fit and serves purely to show Dylan has more layers than we first appreciate, but Richard Jenkins is so endearing in his performance that it hardly matters.

It’s very obvious how the film will end, but seeing how everything comes together is a great deal of fun, with the ending being a very novel one. There is a lot of fun to be had in sending up the idea of the conventional love story, even going so far as to include its own romantic-comedy-within-a-romantic-comedy, starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. It pokes fun at the clichés, but you can’t get away from the fact that Dylan and Jamie are basically perfect for each other. They are stupidly compatible.

With some genuine laugh out loud moments, Friends With Benefits is like if Harry had met Sally in the iPad age. Yes, it’s clichéd, but that’s part of its charm. It’s sending up romantic ideals in a modern world where the idea of casual relationships is no longer taboo, but an accepted part of everyday life.

VERDICT: 3/5

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