They say everything always comes in pairs and film history is full of them. Friends with Benefits follows No Strings Attached, which bowed earlier this year, and both tackle the idea of two friends having all the benefits of a sexual relationship with none of the emotional strings attached.
Both films walk a fine line between raunchy, slapstick humor and classic romantic comedy sentimentality, but Friends with Benefits edges out slightly ahead.
Even stranger than the similar concepts (and it’s odd that it’s never been explored before 2011) is that both are the follow up films for Black Swan stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. While Portman hasn’t always shown her silly side, Kunis grew up (literally) on the hit sitcom That 70’s Show and has proven comedy chops. She uses some of that to her advantage but, unfortunately, she isn’t really given much to work with.
From the first frame you know exactly what you’re going to get. Justin Timberlake, playing Dylan, and Kunis, playing Jamie, become friends and decide they’re both sexually attracted to each other but don’t want a relationship. Against the advice of their friends and family that it will never work, they give it a shot. And guess what? They realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. This isn’t a movie you go to find out what’s going to happen; instead you want to find out how it’s going to happen.
So how does it unfold? It’s innocent enough and Kunis and Timberlake have enough chemistry that it’s very enjoyable. However for a film that is constantly referencing, and knocking, romantic comedy films it doesn’t end up being the antithesis or savior of the genre it hopes to be. Instead it’s another middling rom-com that gets some genuine laughs but is nothing special.
After Timberlake’s surprising turn in Social Network he uses his Saturday Night Live training to prove that he actually does have some flair for the silver screen. He and Kunis have enough fun on screen that it pushes the film through its rough patches. They also work with slew of great co-stars, including Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrlson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Emma Stone and Andy Samberg, that provide further laughs and credible acting. This kind of talent can’t save a mediocre film, but it gives it its moments.
There are worse romantic comedies out there and there are definitely much better. But if you’re looking for one about the drawbacks of a purely sexual relationship, Friends with Benefits is it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.