Posted by: Christopher Tisdall in: Entertainment Industry
There’s usually a simple “something” about a good sex comedy.
Neither particularly sexy nor comical enough to inspire a knee-slap, “Friends With Benefits” plays up the personas of its charismatic stars instead of exploiting their tanned and toned flesh.
If 1959′s “Pillow Talk” were made today, a film similar to “Friends” might be the result, but it doesn’t possess the playful mirth that made films like the Doris Day/Rock Hudson classic a mainstay of the 1960s romcom genre.
The premise is simple. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis), two young professionals brought together through intersecting career paths, make an unusual agreement. The pair agrees to use each other for sex. They can still be friends during the day as long as neither becomes emotionally invested after getting down and dirty at night.
The film’s resolution is crystal clear because “Friends With Benefits” is a romantic comedy. I mean, you have seen one of those before, right?
Writer-director Will Gluck certainly hopes so. “Friends With Benefits” is peppered with references to popular romcoms from the past, some immediately obvious, others that take a moment to register. Regardless, the intertextual knowledge and mockery of genre cliches function as comically smug sarcasm at best. For every trope the protagonists ridicule, another is endorsed along their journey to coupled bliss. You’d think Dylan and Jamie would be able to see what’s in store for them and bypass all the hoopla in their lives that’s so reminiscent of the romantic comedies they despise. We’ll settle for pot meeting kettle in this case.
PG VIDEO: ‘FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS’
Perhaps the satirical material would have functioned better in a more sophisticated film (think Woody Allen). Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t have worked as well if the film’s two leads didn’t have the best onscreen chemistry this side of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” Regardless, you came to see its two stars romping around under the sheets, not a Romantic Comedy 101 lesson. There is surprisingly much left to the imagination in that department. However, the funniest sequence in the film involves a certain oral activity that takes place entirely beneath a blanket. It’s cute but lacks the delicate balance between comical raunch and satirical punch that “Friends With Benefits” desperately fancies but never quite attains.
That’s not to say the film isn’t enjoyable. Its appeal depends largely on the charisma of its stars, not entirely unlike a Doris Day/Rock Hudson venture of years past. For that reason alone it shows this genre hasn’t evolved much, if at all, since its humble beginnings.
Ms. Kunis has been compared to everyone from Lucille Ball to Meg Ryan. She certainly carries the better portion of the film’s comedic weight, possessing a smoky sophistication that sets her more in line with the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Timberlake is equally enjoyable in his first comedic lead, and the audience coasts through the film thanks to their dazzling chemistry, not caring if we know exactly what’s going to happen.
“They just play a cheesy pop song over the credits to trick you into thinking you had fun watching a terrible movie,” Dylan says as Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” plays over the credits of a romantic comedy he’s watching.
As that same song plays over the credits of “Friends With Benefits,” you’ll realize this is a film that truly almost gets it. Simply referencing a problem isn’t enough to free yourself from becoming a victim of the same thing. But for now I’ll take the cheesy pop song and its persuasive effects, but only because “Friends With Benefits” isn’t exactly terrible.