Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Friends With Benefits

Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins

Rating: 4/10

It boggles the mind how two films with strikingly similar concepts and a strikingly similar cast can go on release within six months of each other. February saw the release of No Strings Attached, a rom-com starring Black Swan actress Natalie Portman and Hollywood a-lister Ashton Kutcher about friends who enter into a physical relationship without the emotional pressure of a normal relationship. Neither wants a relationship but enjoy the comfort of each others beds. That is until they start to realise they were made for each other. Now we have Friends With Benefits, starring Black Swan actress Mila Kunis and Hollywood a-lister Justin Timberlake, with exactly the same plot. Perhaps it’s simply an unfortunate coincidence that these two films exist in such close proximity and since I thought No Strings Attached was pretty awful I quite hoped Friends With Benefits would be a bit more likeable.
Dylan (Timberlake) is an LA website developer who is recruited to work for GQ magazine in New York. He is met at the airport by Jamie (Kunis), a beautiful, quirky girl who helps him settle in to the very different world of Manhattan. Tired of frustrating failed relationships the pair enter into a sexually-charged friendship on the basis that they don’t need to get bogged down with the politics of dating. It’s all going well until they start to realise they’re made for each other.

Friends With Benefits starts well. The co-stars are glamorous, likeable and their on-screen chemistry really works. The audience has a great time watching them together and the bawdiness of their sexploits makes for a few giggles. A lot of time is spent making fun of conventional rom-coms, with a fictional film referenced throughout (starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segal) as an example of how manufactured and delusional the world of rom-coms are. This is the film’s way of declaring itself the anti-rom-com. But then what does it go and do? It bloody well becomes the most sappy, conventional rom-com of them all! In the process it also loses all sense of fun and the giddy naughtiness of the first half becomes overtaken by family drama and issues with trust and self-doubt.

There is something infuriatingly smug about a film that pokes so much fun at its own genre but then refuses to think outside of the box defined by generic convention. It’s a bad case of having your cake and eating it too…and even worse, it’s a waste of the breezy charms of its superb co-stars! Unfortunately this starts well but becomes a complete bore by the end, dampened even further by a terribly cheesy ending. If you have a high tolerance for bad romantic comedies, you might enjoy this but if you’re expecting the edgy, sophisticated comedy the first act promises, you will probably be very angry by the time the credits roll. Disappointing!

- Charlene Lydon

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