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Friends with Benefits

A 2011 movie directed by Will Gluck.

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The Superior Casual Sex Comedy

  • Jul 23, 2011
Rating:
+4
Star Rating:


Although the January release of Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached was nothing special, it had just enough for me to give it a passing grade. We now have Will Gluck’s Friends with Benefits, and although it’s founded on the exact same premise – a man and a woman having a go at casual sex – there’s no question in my mind which of the two films is superior. Here is an intelligent, perfectly cast romantic comedy that shows keen awareness of its own conventions. If it ends exactly the way we think it will end, that’s perfectly okay; the formulaic plot is enlivened by a funny, well-worded screenplay and wonderful performances by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, who have such natural onscreen chemistry that it’s a wonder no one thought to cast them together sooner. If there’s one thing I love, it’s when something as routine as a romantic comedy exceeds my expectations.
 
After disgusting me in the God-awful Bad Teacher, Timberlake returns in top form with a likeable, energetic performance – his first ever in a leading role. He plays Dylan, a Los Angeles-born graphic designer who accepts a job in New York for GQ. There, he meets Jamie (Kunis), and the two become fast friends. Both have just gotten out of bad relationships, and whereas Dylan is emotionally unavailable, Jamie is emotionally damaged. They have polar opposite reactions to Hollywood rom-coms, of which they’re intimately familiar with. It’s not merely that Dylan believes they’re unrealistic; he doesn’t appreciate the way they manipulate audiences with dialogue, visuals, and music. Jamie, on the other hand, wants it to be just like it is in the movies. She’s waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet and carry her away in a horse-drawn carriage.

                                           
                                             
In spite of their animosity towards dating and relationships, they realize that they greatly miss sex. They then come to a mutual understanding: They will augment their friendship with casual sex and make no emotional commitments. This initial decision leads to what is arguably one of the funniest sex scenes in the history of the movies. I can safely say that I’ve never witnessed characters listing their bedroom peculiarities as they undress. To fully describe the way the scene is written, edited, and performed would probably be too dirty, but more to the point, I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. To truly get a feel for it, you’re just going to have to experience it for yourself. Timberlake and Kunis work through this and the rest of the film effortlessly; they bounce lines off of each other with the same rhythmic pacing of characters in an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.
 
What made the film even better was the fact that the leads were developed beyond obvious rom-com clichés. During a family visit to Los Angeles, for example, we learn that Dylan was at one time a stutterer with woefully underdeveloped math skills. To this day, large numbers continue to confuse him. None of this is reduced to the level of cheap comedy relief; the filmmakers show restraint and go for just the right balance between humor and heartbreak. The same level of respect can be seen in the character of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins), who has Alzheimer’s disease. This is the only instance I know of which it isn’t funny watching an old man walk around without his pants on. There are also a few tender moments between Dylan, his loving sister (Jenna Elfman), and his adorable young nephew (Nolan Gould), a magician in training.

                                           
                                             
Rounding out the side characters, we have Jamie’s mother, Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), who seems stuck in the days of free love and has become a bit of a freeloader. In spite of her obvious drawbacks as a mother – she’s really more of a best friend to Jamie – she isn’t without her good points. She can always be counted on for a laugh. We also have the GQ sports editor, Tommy (Woody Harrelson), quite possibly the coolest gay character ever created. Both are there for Dylan and Jamie as they realize just how complicated casual sex can be. Is there really such a thing as friends with benefits, or is that yet another fantasy concocted by Hollywood screenwriters?
 
Given the fact that Friends with Benefits is itself a Hollywood fantasy, chances are you already know the answer to that question. This is one of the rare instances in which knowing beforehand makes absolutely no difference. What I appreciated about this film was the humor, the heart, the spot-on casting, and the cleverness with which it was written. Consider, for example, a subtle but wise observation on the different ways in which Angelinos and New Yorkers cross the street; being from L.A., and having visited New York twice in the past ten years, I can tell you that it’s absolutely true. My favorite moment might have been early on, when Jamie waits at the airport for Dylan. She’s in a hurry to make a name card for him to notice, so she swipes one that has the name O. Penderghast written on it. Olive Penderghast was the main character in Will Gluck’s previous effort, Easy A. Had it not been one of the best films of 2010, this would be little more than a shameless act of self promotion.

                                               

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July 23, 2011
This sounds pretty good. Seems like this is getting a more above average reviews than Bad Teacher (which I fell asleep on). Movies like this often would rely on how convincing and the chemistry the leads establish have to be in total sync. I like this kinda concept. Funniest sex scene? sounds interesting...LOL
July 23, 2011
Trust me, Timberlake and Kunis are in perfect sync. As for the sex scene, at least I thought it was one of the funniest. But seeing as I'm very selective with my sense of humor, you might not want to take my word for it.
 
1
More Friends with Benefits (2011 mo... reviews
review by . July 22, 2011
‘Friends with Benefits' Has Some Benefits
Ashton Kutcher and the girl on everyone’s minds, Natalie Por…Oh, oh wait. How could I get No Strings Attached from earlier this year confused with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ Friends With Benefits? Yes, they’re the same plot; extremely attractive friends who decide sex is possible without emotional commitment and then are met with a whirlwind of romantic comedy clichés. But this one has a girl from That 70’s Show and the other …
review by . July 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
As engaging as a one-night stand, a decent one.
Dating is complicated. The scene today can be so cold and callous that most people in it are forced to disengage emotionally from it in order to survive. Enter Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits, director Will Gluck’s follow-up to last fall’s breakout comedy, Easy A. They have a plan that will save everyone from the walls they’ve erected around their hearts by using those walls as the foundation for their mating practices. The logic is that if you’re …
Quick Tip by . December 20, 2011
Yes, this is the same story as that Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman flick, No Strings Attached. I just like the chemistry and acting of JT/Mila Kunis much better. There was more comedy in this one and yes, of course, the same message of the impossibility of guys and gals being eff buddies, so they have no choice but to fall in love with them. Then again, who wouldn't fall for JT? Just sayin...There were better scenes in this one and Woody Harrelson who added so much to this film as a gay Sports editor, …
review by . July 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
If you find yourself walking to the theater and not wanting to see a superhero movie, you may turn to the romantic comedy Friends With Benefits and think to yourself I've already seen this movie. While the premise is exactly the same as No Strings Attached, FWB seems to benefit from having taken the extra time to develop their writing and the chemistry between the two leads. It is still the same movie but this version of friends who just want the physical without all the …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie

Wiki

While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.
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Details

Director: Will Gluck
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: 22 July 2011 (USA)
Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment, Olive Bridge Entertainment, Screen Gems
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