If this were a newspaper, where we could get creative with our titles (instead of the required “Review: Friends With Benefits“), I would put something smarmy like “Friends With(out) Benefits” or “A Ravishing Tale of Lust and Betrayal (minus the lust and betrayal)”. How does “Dr. Stupidlove, or How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Dumb” sound? Okay scratch that last one, but you get the point. Breaking with well-worn tradition, I won’t try to lure you into this review by promising “my opinion, but only after the jump”. I think this film sucks and I just can’t recommend it to anyone. Read on to find out more!
Ha, gotcha. You’re still here. Well, don’t worry, I have much more to say than just “this film sucks”. There were actually a few funny moments and the film does have its strengths (a few cameos, the soundtrack), but mostly yeah, I will be dumping on this movie (appropriate considering the running poop joke bafflingly included in the film). There is no chemistry between the leads, the supporting characters are merely plot taxis meant to transport the couple around acts two and three, and the film’s cinematography lies somewhere between “uninspired” and “cookie-cutter formulaic”. If I were to make a list of pros and cons, the lists would look like Abbott and Costello, or Fay Wray and King Kong.
Friends With Benefits concerns Dylan and Jamie, two young professionals (though they hardly work) who decide it would be appropriate, and feasible, to carry on a strictly sexual relationship during their first few weeks of single-dom. Each has baggage (emotionally unavailable, damaged, etc.) that apparently prevents them from having, you know, feelings, so they figure sex is enjoyable, why not just do that part. As you can guess, its not that simple. What really throws a curve ball in the picture is a second-act shocker that transforms a sub-par crass comedy into a sub-par family melodrama. Its strange, unexpected, and unsuccessful change of pace tosses what was briefly a serviceable comedy into the proverbial briar patch. And Br’er Rabbit we are not.
The beginning of the film tells us, in no uncertain terms, that this is a fresh approach to the romantic comedy genre. Except that a strikingly similar film (No Strings Attached) came out mere months ago. But wait, this one will be fresh, and exciting, the opening sequence tells us so! If Celery Nut Cheerios were a new cereal, that could also be called fresh and exciting, if you see what I am getting at.
Why should we care about the trivial lives of two extremely wealthy New York professionals who get to frolic around the city toying with the latest in Sony electronics and drink overpriced beer? Shiner Bock may or may not sponsor the film and Sony certainly appears to be a product tie-in, so that answers that last part. The beginning, however, is still a mystery. Fans of crass humor and Apatowian banter may get a kick out of this, but the edgy and slightly offensive jokes that pervade the film are hardly appropriate for children and hardly tolerable for anyone over 40. Screen Gems is looking for a strong showing in the key demographics (17-24 anybodys) but I can’t see critical acclaim boosting the numbers for them. It might be an uphill battle no matter how you cut it; the film looks to be so relentlessly advertised (banner ads on IMDB anyone?) that perhaps the studio thought “if we can make sure everyone in America knows about this movie, maybe some will pay to see it.”
One of the film’s saving graces comes in the form of aural pleasure (go ahead, that’s a free one on me); a hipster-new amalgam of bands like Foster The People and Fitz & The Tantrums (two L.A. bands, mind you) who lend their catchy choruses to the New York-saturated film. Will Gluck’s Big Apple doesn’t seem all that special or expansive, and anyone who remembers the brilliantly captured Woody Allen films of the 70’s and 80’s knows there is a lot more character to the city than this.
“What about the sex?” you might be asking. Well, its tough to make two attractive people making love not erotic, but this may be the one thing Gluck is good at. In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Gluck wrote a piece on filming Benefits and said that he was entering “virgin territory” (his words) with the bedroom scenes. His solution was to develop the couple’s rapport through forced interaction, which aptly enough would be the right phrase for their lovemaking. I will say that Gluck knows his audience, and expects that romance and eroticism have no place in the crude, f-bomb laden world that the characters inhabit. He may be right, but it’s a disservice to portray Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in such unsexy fashion.
If you were hoping the kicking soundtrack and a few fun cameos would be worth the price of admission, I can’t say you should expect anything good from the rest of the film. I will say, however, that the audience seemed to laugh a lot, so maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon who doesn’t understand “kids these days”. But even modern Woody Allen (see Midnight In Paris) can construct a better rom-com than this inedible fare.
Fans of “classic” rom-coms like Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and Some Like It Hot won’t see anything familiar in this choose-your-order boy-leaves-loves-misses-loses-regains-girl story. Gone are leads like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Jack Lemmon, who for three decades churned out great romantic comedies like it was their job. Now guys like Timberlake and Shia LaBeouf infest our theaters with shallow offerings trimmed to their lowest common denominator. It was nice to know you, romantic comedy. Call me when you aren’t dating that other guy, the one who pops all three of his collars. Maybe I’ll take you back.