Score another one for the “uproarious summer comedy.” The Justine Timberlake-Mila Kunis rom-com “Friends with Benefits” is definitely a winner. Sure it might be the second film this year about plutonic friends who decide to go “all the way” with each other without letting all those feelings get in the way, but the second time’s the charm definitely. That Natalie Portman movie literally has nothing on this hilariously wonderful and heartfelt movie with unexpectedly well-written characters and terrific performances from everyone involved. It’s really too bad a lot people think this is just a remake of a movie that was released six months ago, because this is the one you need to see.
Will Gluck, who directed last year’s witty sleeper hit “Easy A” returns here to some very well-worn territory. It’s a romantic comedy about friends who decide that relationships are messy and annoying and decide that casual sex is the way to go. Kunis plays Jamie who’s a corporate head-hunter in New York City. She convinces California dude Dylan (Timberlake) to take a job as art director of GQ magazine. He falls in love. With the city. He moves to the East Coast and begins a close friendship with Jamie. They are both hot people, but they decide what they need right now is a best friend, not a relationship. Of course, most hot people are usually pretty horny and used to having great sex, so what do they decide to do? They bone each other (a lot) and leave the emotional baggage at the door. They have great, hot naked sex. They are hot people, remember that.
Can two hot people really have glorious sex and not fall in love? Not in this movie of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that this movie, while it follows the formula, skewers it and is at least honest about what it’s doing. Jamie and Dylan watch a admittedly horrible looking rom-com starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones (in two pretty wonderful cameos) and talk about how that stuff doesn’t really happen in real life. But remember, we ourselves are watching a movie, so obviously nothing that actually happens in the movie is all too realistic. However, these two characters are almost so well-rounded and fleshed out I was almost disturbed by how much we get to learn about them, their personalities and quirks and even their home lives. Jamie’s mother (Patricia Clarkson almost repeating her role from “Easy A,” thank God!) is a wild woman who doesn’t even know who her daughter’s real birth father is. Dylan’s home life in LA is a bit more complicated once we learn that his father (Richard Jenkins) has been suffering from Alzheimer’s and his older sister (Jenna Elfman) is taking care of him.
Even with serious dramatic undertones (and the serious part where the couple eventually “break up” but then get back together) the film is through and through a comedy. And a funny one at that. Just because Kunis and Timberlake are good-looking and make the rest of us look like garbage, doesn’t mean they can’t be funny. They have great timing and the writers have given them pretty funny things to say and do. There are plenty of amusing pop culture references for those who like that stuff (that would be me). Let’s see, I recall references to everything from Harry Potter to flash mobs and rappers Kriss Kross to YouTube and even that “miracle on the Hudson” airline pilot. And sure the film has more product placement than Times Square. Someone needs to pay the bills! Now where can I find an iPad…
You could do a lot worse than “Friends with Benefits” it has a smart script that follows the formula but isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. It has some pretty great direction from a guy who really seems to know what he’s doing. The actors give great performances and have terrific chemistry together. You root for Jamie and Dylan. Mila and Justin are hot people so they belong together. Sure like most other rom-coms this is all pure fantasy, it’s Hollywood fantasy through and through, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. GRADE: A-