Here’s a film that should be much better than it turned out. It has a director, Will Glick, coming off of his break though movie (the wonderful Easy A), two charismatic actors with a knack for comedy, a stellar supporting cast that includes the likes of Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson and Woody Harrelson, and the promise of a sexy, new take on the romantic comedy genre. Unfortunately, the script of Friends With Benefits lets everyone down. The film begins with a sort of Scream –like awareness of the rom com genre and makes fun of it. However, instead of reinventing formula, Friends With Benefits follows the structure of a romantic comedy to a T. What starts off with such great potential gradually becomes predictable and less interesting as the movie progresses.
Timberlake’s Dylan begins the film breaking up with his girlfriend (a hilarious Emma Stone) outside of a John Mayer concert. He’s not too torn up because he has a great job running an up an coming website in L.A. Dylan does such fine work that he’s recruited by Kunis’s Jamie, a headhunter based in New York. She thinks he’d be perfect to run the art department of GQ. Upon his arrival to the Big Apple, Jamie takes Dylan around New York to show him how great living there can be. The two hit it off immediately and when Dylan takes the job (like you knew he would) Jamie becomes his best friend. She’s single, too, by the way, after a terrible break up. One night, while hanging out, making fun a a romantic comedy starring Jason Segal and Rashinda Jones, Jamie laments that she misses having sex, but she doesn’t miss the baggage that comes with having a boyfriend. Dylan devises a plan: They should become sex buddies with no emotional commitment. Friends with benefits.
After an amusing “first time,” which includes Dylan singing Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” (and confusing the band with Third Eye Blind), we have a montage of sex in all sorts of places. Glick uses this opportunity to showcase the smoking bodies of his two leads. Kunis and Timberlake must have spent as much time naked on the set as Michael Fassbender did on Shame. Everything is going great, but we know their fool proof plan is destined to fail because a) Woody Harrelson’s character tells us so and b) because Friends With Benefits has already fallen into the formula.
Jamie decides that they should starting dating other people and she falls for a pediatric cancer doctor (Bryan Greenburg). Dylan starts to get jealous. Fortunately, when the doctor breaks Jamie’s heart, Dylan is on hand to lift her up. He invites her to L.A. for the 4th of July to meet his family. At this point in the film, Richard Jenkins appears as Dylan’s father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I must point out that Jenkins is great. I wish more of the movie had to do with Dylan’s family and that Jenkins had more to do. His speech to Dylan near the end of the movie is just so wonderful. During the visit, Dylan is speaking to his sister (Jenna Elfman) and Jamie overhears a portion of a conversation. She mistakes what he’s saying (that Jamie is too fucked up for him to like her) as full truth. It’s a misunderstanding that leads to the separation of the two love birds. Didn’t see that one coming.
Actually, you can see everything that’s coming, which would have been fine IF Glick and his fellow screenwriters didn’t make a point to ridicule romantic comedies and how they’re all so similar. If you’re going to make fun of the genre, you better make damn sure that you do something different, otherwise you set yourself up to he type of criticism I’m writing right now. How does the film end? Do I really need to tell you? If you like rom coms, and I happen to love them, then you know were the film is headed as soon as Kunis flees L.A.
There are ways that the film could have been tightened and made a stronger film. Cutting back on the montages would have been one. More Richard Jenkins would have been another. Also, it seems like when Timberlake and Kunis veered from the script their playfulness together was very engaging. Too often in the film it feels as if they were trapped by the script and couldn’t act more naturally. The commentary by Glick, Timberlake and Kunis certainly indicates that they all enjoyed making the film together, and the outtakes imply a fun film shoot. Unfortunately, none of that translates on to the screen.
Additional bonus features on the Blu-ray include deleted scenes, a pop up trivia track, a behind the scenes featurette, and a featurette about choreographing a flash mob (which plays an important role int the plot of the movie).