- Running time:
- 109 minutes
- Justin Timberlake -
- Mila Kunis -
- Patricia Clarkson -
- Jenna Elfman -
- Bryan Greenberg -
Hotshot Los Angeles art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) gets recruited to GQ magazine by aggressive New York headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis). They also become instant friends, bonded by their recent bad breakups. Reluctant to jump into a relationship again, Dylan and Jamie realize they can use each other for sex and avoid any messy emotional attachments. Or so they think…
The buzz: January’s “No Strings Attached”—starring Ashton Kutcher and Kunis’ “Black Swan” rival Natalie Portman—already exploited a friends with benefits premise and made off with a solid $70 million at the box office. But it wasn’t very good. That could clear the way for Timberlake (fresh off “The Social Network”) and Kunis to shine under the direction of Will Gluck (the man behind last year’s sharp and snappy teen comedy “Easy A”).
The verdict: Showing up the mediocrity of “No Strings Attached” is the easy part. It’s overcoming romantic comedy clichés that proves trickier for “Friends with Benefits.” Cut from the same sassy, pop culture-referencing, disarmingly good-hearted cloth as “Easy A”—but lacking the excitement of Emma Stone’s star-making turn—“Benefits” coasts on the natural charm and smooth chemistry of Timberlake and Kunis. They’re uncommonly well-matched romantic comedy stars—attractive, likable and comedically gifted—and perfectly at ease with anything the script requires, from naughty-funny sex scenes to lightweight dramatic conflicts. That’s enough to give the movie a significant edge over recent rom-com duds and make it a worthy date night option for those who don’t mind the R-rated raunch (a hot trend that “Benefits” handles better than any summer comedy besides “Bridesmaids”). But, like he did in “Easy A,” Gluck wants to poke fun at genre cheesiness while simultaneously embracing its guilty pleasure appeal. There’s even a movie-within-a-movie called “I Love You, I Love New York” starring Jason Segel, Rashida Jones and every inane rom-com cliché, which Dylan and Jamie love to mock and inevitably wind up imitating. It’s that inevitability that doesn’t work so well this time for Gluck. Where the writing in “Easy A” was effortless and fresh, the “Benefits” script by Gluck, Keith Merryman and David Newman veers closer to desperate and familiar. For every supporting flourish that works (including hilarious bite-sized roles for Patricia Clarkson as Jamie’s mom and Woody Harrelson as Dylan’s gay colleague) there are a few more that fall flat (the naïve use of flash mobs, the misjudged cameo from Olympian Shaun White, the wall-to-wall pop song score). Consider this a mixed bag, with benefits.
Did you know? The movie spoofing extends after the closing credits, with a winking tag from “I Love You, I Love New York.”
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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