(Friends With Benefits, Will Gluck, US, 2011, 109 mins)
Fresh faced from The Social Network (2010) and Black Swan (2010) – which both won various awards at the BAFTAs this year – Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are steaming up the screen in this new romantic comedy. Both are very attractive actors, a satisfying aspect for audiences observing this new talent leaving their stamp on the romantic genre, which could perhaps be a little repetitive in the modern day as they are renowned for their happy endings. Not to mention the constant product placement and references to the internet and apps; Dylan (Timberlake) claiming to have one for telling if Jamie (Kunis) is on her ‘time of the month’, and the use of Jamie’s ‘Bible app’ to secure the pact they are devoting themselves to. These elements really do provide a statement of the type of society we live in today, one which is predominantly run by technology, and the lack of communication between friends and families.
The performance between Timberlake and Kunis is very true to life in relation to many of the problematic situations couples experience when getting to know each other in the bedroom for the first time. As a girl who has just reached her twenties, I can relate to the crude predicaments that Gluck has pulled onto the screen, suggesting that he has a true understanding of my generation. Laughs and cringes come all at once in the first half of the film, when headhunter Jamie and art director Dylan, who is new to New York, decide that their relationship will suffer no consequences if they just have sex. Going by the advertising methods the film has used (Timberlake’s phallic symbolising finger pointing to Kunis’ oval shape made with her fingers) it is inevitable this more grown up comedy will contain a lot of sex and believe me when I say there is a lot of the hubba hubba. Couples who decide to view this together may even pick up a few tips as Dylan and Jamie explore what they like confidently and truthfully, which makes watching this couple a pleasure as they are appealing both for their physique and connection.
Kunis is a real benefit to the film and may have a hard edged front about her at all times, but it only makes her role more sassy and sexy. She portrays herself as an independent woman, she is confident and dominating, unlike the character of Meg who she voices in Family Guy who is usually disregarded and ignored. Timberlake on the other hand looks like he needs more guidance with his acting as well as his moves in the bedroom, but nevertheless he is charming and suitably fits the romantic role after starring in Bad Teacher (2011). It is difficult to judge Timberlake on his performance when his reputation rests principally with his music. He has the ability to act, however it would be encouraging to see him pursue other types of roles within his new acting career.
The film mocks the romantic genre; the characters whine about the conventions of romantic comedies but ironically director Will Gluck has injected those very same clichés into Friends With Benefits, particularly through the use of flash mobs in New York. The scenes in which the flash mobs occur is unpredictable as members of the public come together on the street to dance simultaneously, and the overall effect it has is mesmerising and carries a great sense of unity. The introduction of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins) may or may not slow the pace for audiences as the character addresses the distressing factors of Alzheimer’s, toning the comedy right down. On the other hand, it relevantly links into the importance of communication in a relationship and the significance of being honest with each other. The supporting cast also deserve praise; Woody Harrelson plays Dylan’s gay best friend Tommy, constantly pestering him to see if he’s changed his sexuality yet but also delivering some sound advice, “It’s not who you want to spend Friday night with, it’s who you want to spend all day Saturday with”. Patricia Clarkson stars as Jamie’s unreliable mother who times her entrance to the film perfectly, and Dylan’s little brother Sam (Nolan Gould) is very adorable as an aspiring magician and works excellently alongside Kunis.
By the end of the film Gluck has overloaded Dylan’s faults and illustrated enough of his own. However, if the ending is too predictable for you then don’t be disheartened about viewing it; the 109 minutes is worth it and the content is far juicier than expected. The storyline lacks originality, but the lead roles should be one aspect to commit audiences to the film.