Amid a summer full of superheroes, wizards, pirates, and rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots, it would be very easy to overlook a small-scale romantic comedy with no CGI monsters or super villains. It’s already happened to the A-list-led “Larry Crowne,” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, which tanked at the box office. But hopefully, audiences will not miss out on “Friends with Benefits” and discover what a smart and funny film this is.
Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star as Jamie and Dylan, two recently single people in New York City. Jamie is a corporate headhunter who’s been hired by GQ Magazine to convince Dylan, a popular blogger from Los Angeles, to join their staff. They quickly become friends and find each other physically attractive, but neither wants to get into the complications and commitments of an emotional relationship. So they decide to become “friends with benefits” – sexually active partners with no strings attached. Speaking of “No Strings Attached,” that’s the title of a similarly themed movie released earlier this year with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, but “Friends with Benefits” is the highly superior film.
While “No Strings Attached” suffered from a lack of both romance and comedy, “Friends with Benefits” shines in both departments. The screenplay is very smartly written and isn’t afraid to throw a nod and a wink to the clichés of the romantic comedy genre. Director Will Gluck also did this in his previous film, “Easy A,” which parodied 80s high school films. But he does it more subtlely and successfully here. There are lots of funny scenes, and the dialogue is believable and intelligent, a rarity in romantic comedies nowadays where the norm is to have the female lead alternatingly swoon and screech, while the undistinguishable male lead simply stands there looking good waiting for the female lead to resolve her issues and fall in love with him. It’s definitely refreshing to watch real characters, instead of just caricatures.
The two leads also share good chemistry, despite the feeling that Kunis is carrying all of their scenes, while Timberlake is just along for the ride. It’s not that his performance is bad. It’s just that his inexperience is noticeable when compared to the film’s strong supporting cast, which includes Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins as Dylan’s father, Patricia Clarkson as Jamie’s free loving mother, and Woody Harrelson as Dylan’s gay co-worker. Jenna Elfman also contributes a real and touching performance as Dylan’s older sister. These veteran actors certainly helped up the quality of the film and they were no doubt attracted to the film by its great screenplay.
So if you want a break from all of the summer blockbuster extravaganzas, this is the film to watch. It’s a sweet, romantic and funny film. Plus, any film that mentions the 90s teenage hip-hop group Kriss Kross gets bonus points from me.
“Friends with Benefits”, 109 minutes, opens on Friday, July 22, and is Rated R.