July 24, 2011

Movie Review: Friends with Benefits (2011)

Didn't we already see this movie this year? Oh yeah, we did. It was called No Strings Attached and starred Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Sure, there are a few differences, but the basic idea is essentially the same thing, to say its not is just silly. It is also far removed from the first time this has happened. It seems at least once a year we get similarly themed movies, think of Armageddon/Deep Impact, Jurassic Park/Canosaur, and more recently Skyline/Battle: Los Angeles. I am sure you can come up with more examples on your own, it's not like this is going to be the last time it happens. Also, in each case there is generally one that stands up more than the other. In this latest case I have to say Friends with Benefits is the superior movie.

This is not to say that Friends with Benefits is a good movie. It's not, not really. However, I found it to be considerably more successful than that earlier entry and despite having its own issues, I found it to be quite  funny and entertaining. Yes, you read that right, I liked this movie. It is not terribly realistic, is frankly ridiculous, with some seriously ridiculous characters, but it made me laugh. At no point did I find myself bored, and that has to say something considering this comedy runs just about two hours. There is probably some stuff that could have been cut, but I cannot say what.

The run time flew by me pretty quickly and I liked the point it made about not missing your opportunities in life. It is very easy to allow yourself to be too proud to recognize what you have to do for what you love. Making the choice to love is not an easy one, making a relationship a physical one only is sure to cause problems no matter how well you think you can handle it, we are not wired that way. Knowing this makes what happens in the movie inevitable.

I think on some level I am not supposed to like this movie, beyond that I think I am also not supposed to like Justin Timberlake. On both counts I do. I do not listen to his music, that I don't like, but as a celebrity, he really has done something with himself and his movies have gotten better along the way. In the case of this movie he is quite funny and charismatic. On the other hand we have Mila Kunis, who is really developing not only as an absolute beauty but as an actress, especially with her roles in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Black Swan. She has a ways to go, and while this may not be a challenging step for her, she embodies the role pretty well and does decent work with little content.

Timberlake plays Dylan, an artistic director for a upstart website in California who is invited to interview with GQ at the insistence of headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis). But before we get there, we go through break up sequences where we are informed that Jamie is emotionally damaged (thanks to Andy Samberg) and Dylan is emotionally unavailable (thanks to Emma Stone). This leads to a charge between the two as they sense a similar emotional state and become fast friends outside of their professional relationship. This turns to a physical relationship where they can engage in intimate activities while keeping their actual emotions divorced from the act.

The first portions of the movie see their actual friendship develop as they scoff at the tropes of the romantic comedies they seem to enjoy watching. This leads to the sex, followed by inevitable complications and conflict followed by the ultimately expected resolution of issues and realization of what one really wants.

There is nothing special here, but it is told in suitably raunchy fashion and directed with energy by Will Gluck (also directed the surprisingly good Easy A). The supporting cast certainly helps matters, including Woody Harrelson as a gay sports editor, Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's open to anything mother, Jenna Elfman as Dylan's sister, and Richard Jenkins as Dylan's Alzheimer's suffering father. I really did like the subplot concerning Dylan and his dad, it actually revealed some genuine emotion and I wonder if the director or one of the writers had a similar relationship.

Whatever the case may be, this is a funny movie. It touches on broad truths, nothing revolutionary or original, but told in an entertaining fashion. Sure, there are problems like how they manage to have so much free time and available money (well, give them hard to come by dream-type jobs to void everyday workman drudgery), how impossibly attractive peopel have trouble finding someone (only in the movies). I don't know, I find that while I could, I haven't the desire to tear into this. I enjoyed it and I thik others will to. Award winning? Nah, why does it have to when it actually entertains?


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