Friends with benefits?

Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis via Google Images (free for re-use)

Written in September 2011. 

Mila Kunis lights up the screen in Friends With Benefits, the latest movie to ask the eternal(ish) question: Can men and women ever be ‘just friends’? There have been a slew of movies featuring f-buddies in recent years (Just Friends, No Strings Attached… there was even another Friends With Benefits back in 2009) and part of the problem with this film is the subject matter is oh-so-familiar.

Justin Timberlake impresses as Dylan Harper, a surprisingly naïve LA web designer head-hunted for GQ by New Yorker Jamie (Kunis). Although she spends most of one early scene scrambling around a baggage carousel in the airport, Jamie is not the ditzy, irritating leading woman so beloved of Hollywood. Kunis brings real depth to a character that is smart and independent, yet vulnerable. In a nice reversal, Timberlake is her kooky foil- a running joke sees him inadvertently make enemies by insulting Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (the guy who landed the plane on the Hudson River, fact fans). He’s also incapable of doing even the most basic maths. (Yet he has-presumably- a degree in web design…)

Jamie and Dylan click immediately and are soon firm friends. However, they can’t deny their obvious chemistry- it’s no surprise the rumour mills were churning about Timberlake and Kunis’ own relationship after this movie- and soon they’re ripping each other’s clothes off. Both have been burnt recently in disastrous relationships so they agree to keep things strictly platonic, apart from the sex that is.

It works well for a while, with Jamie even ending the arrangement so she can start dating again, but what happens when they both find themselves in Dylan’s family home for the 4th of July?

The answer is predictable, and that’s the main problem with this movie. Both Dylan and Jamie ridicule romantic Hollywood clichés (hilariously depicted in the atrocious romantic comedy they watch together) but by the end of the film they succumb to them. Another flaw is the depth of Dylan and Jamie’s friendship- would staying friends really be that important to them after knowing each other for just a few weeks?

Positively, the script moves at lightning pace, and the supporting cast are highly comic. Woody Harrelson stays just on the right side of creepy as the very openly gay sports editor Tommy and Richard Jenkins is frankly amazing as Dylan’s ill dad. Mila Kunis is a true star, and Justin Timberlake ably portrays the colder side of Dylan’s personality.

All in all, is a funny and smart screwball comedy but it’s nothing new.
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