New York head hunter Jamie (Kunis) successfully lures art director Dylan (Timberlake) to New York for a magazine job. After becoming friends, they decide to try no-strings sex, believing they can keep emotions out of it. Naturally, they cant
"Shut up, Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar,” spits Mila Kunis at the start of this romantic comedy as she storms away from a cinema, glowering at the posters. It’s a promising beginning in a post-Bridesmaids world demanding a little more from its chick flicks.
Kunis’ character, Jamie, is sick of romantic comedies telling her that everything will work out just fine. Her solution? To use pal Dylan (Justin Timberlake) purely for sex. No emotion, no flattery, pure honesty. There’s an amusing scene where they size each other up with a quick-fire round of questioning, exchanging brutally honest comments about each other’s physiques.
It’s an eerily similar premise to No Strings Attached, with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, which originally had this very title. Clearly the fuck-buddies idea is current. Friends With Benefits takes a slightly raunchier approach, with a fairly frank look at the mechanics of sex. So yes, there are bedroom scenes with Kunis and Timberlake barking instructions at each other. It’s not desperately sexy, but it is funny, and opens up questions about the links between sex and attraction (can you simply get someone to push your buttons if you only find them passable and likable?).
But that’s not the question this is particularly concerned with. “Can men and women have sex and NOT fall into a relationship?” this seems to ask. The answer is disappointingly mundane. This goes to great lengths to set itself up as an anti rom-com, a celebration of singledom — and then falls into exactly the same trap as the films it’s been mocking. Yes, it’s aware of its double standards with a nod and a wink, but to what end?
The good news is that it’s reasonably funny and charming throughout — slightly more so than No Strings. Kunis and Timberlake share comic ability and chemistry, although he arguably has less mass appeal as a leading man. Woody Harrelson gleans the odd obvious laugh from his role as Dylan’s gay colleague, but it’s Patricia Clarkson who steals the show as Jamie’s irresponsible, party-loving mother, who makes a classic entrance via coitus interruptus.
By the time the couple (or non-couple) visit Dylan’s family, the tension about their union has drained away. Its conclusion feels inevitable and a subplot about Dylan’s father is unnecessary, despite Richard Jenkins’ talents.
This won’t bother women in search of an easy romantic comedy, but it’s not going to change the world of chick flicks either. Although after Kunis’ performance, Katherine Heigl might have something to worry about after all.
This coasts along just fine thanks to charm and comical interludes, but it fails to deliver the sassy story it promises. Fine for a romantic comedy, but an inferior follow up to director Glucks edgier Easy A.