The subject of the no strings attached sexual relationship has been a bit of a popular one lately. Love And Other Drugs and No Strings Attached came and went, neither setting the box office on fire, and now a third comes in to try to fill the void that the other two couldn’t. And while it has the chemistry of the former, it’s the film’s lack of a solid story that puts it in familiar territory as the Ashton Kutcher vehicle. It just has better chemistry from its leads.
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) has just taken a job as art director at GQ Magazine in New York. A native Californian, he was recruited to the position by Jamie (Mila Kunis). Becoming close friends early on as he adjusts to life in New York, they decide to take their friendship to a sexual level but without turning it into a relationship. Both have issues but physical needs and thus their solution seems simple at first. But nothing ever is, as always, and they end up at a place they never expected emotionally. It’s a simple, predictable story but is carried to respectability with one thing: chemistry.
There’s nothing new about the film but the interesting thing is that it has two stars in the right place at the right time in their careers. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis both had Oscar consideration a short while ago for roles in prestige films but both share one thing in common: neither have been in the position to carry a film before now. Both have been in supporting roles consistently but never counted to be a film’s backbone. It’s a big step, career wise, and it’s interesting to see them take it at the same time.
Neither is in familiar territory and they have enough chemistry together to make the film’s script and story more interesting than it deserves to be. This is a film reminiscent of When in Rome, which was a mediocre story carried because the leads in that film (Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell) had remarkable chemistry together. Friends with Benefits is in similar territory because of a similar situation.
Kunis and Timberlake work together on screen as a couple as the chemistry oozes throughout the film between them. They have wonderful timing with one another, on top of being aesthetically pleasing together, and the film has wonderful life because of it. One wonders how much better they could be if they had material that was stronger as this isn’t a very good script. The film struggles for laughs on many occasions that stronger material could’ve wrung out of it. Too many jokes are easy and the film’s few clever moments, including a cameo moment from two veterans of the romantic comedy circuit, are few and far between.
The other problem the film has is that it’s an R-rated film without really being all that remarkably vulgar. There’s enough language to be able to justify the rating but not enough to where the film couldn’t have been a PG-13 with some alternate takes. It’s interesting that Will Gluck would go the other way with last year’s Easy A, taking a profanity laden film down to a PG-13 film with differing takes, and Friends with Benefits doesn’t have enough vulgar moments and blue humor to really be that hard of an R-rating. It feels forced, as if they were going for the PG-13 and at the last minute opted for the R. It leaves the film off because it feels tacked on.
Friends with Benefits remains, then, a flawed film that’s carried by remarkable chemistry from two stars trying to go from being supporting players to headliners.
Director: Will Gluck Notable Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Emma Stone, Jenna Elfman, Andy Samberg, Bryan Greenberg Writer(s): Will Gluck, Keith Merryman, David A Newman, Harley Peyton
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.