Friends with Benefits doesn't cover new ground; rom-coms never do. They are made of of recycled ideas and situations about the cliches of love that have been used over and over again. We know what to expect and often can even predict the mood changes and outcomes. But we always return to them, especially on a rainy day or after a breakup hosting a tub of ice cream, because watching people, played by beautiful actors, struggling to find true love is just to appealing to pass up. Although, that definitely doesn't guarantee that we will enjoy them; for the most part they are brutally cliched, corny, and are comic failures. Why Friends with Benefits succeeds and is so much better most of the other rom-coms from this year is that it makes fun of the cliches and once it goes down its own unavoidable cliched path, it embraces it, letting the charm, sweetness, and humor that sucked us in so easily still shine through.
Talking in any sort of detail about the plot is pointless, only the faces and presentation will feel new. So instead, I will just give a brief little introduction. The two "friends" are Dyan (Justin Timberlake), a Californian art director who moves to New York City to work for GQ, and Jamie (Mila Kunis), the Executive Recruiter who convinces Dylan to move. They become good friends and on a normal Friday night they decide to watch and make fun of a sappy, cliched rom-com - Jason Segel and Rashida Jones have cameo roles in the fake movie. When their movie ends, the two friends wonder why people can't leave out the emotional attachment and just have sex. So they vow to hot, sweaty sex and still stay friends. And then comes a sex scene that is as hilarious as it is erotic. But what do you know? Things are weird the next day, so they decide to stop before things get out of control, but we all know what happens next: the temptation is too strong and they continue their increasingly passionate love affair. I don't need to say anymore because we all can pretty much predict the rocky road their "friendship" will take.
A-list stars often use rom-coms as an easy-going escape from there other more emotionally and physically demanding projects. That isn't the case here. Pop superstar Justin Timberlake is a more than attractive lead, running off the success of his brief, but impressive, performance in The Social Network (2010) - a performance many felt was snubbed from an Oscar nomination. Mila Kunis has almost the exact same story, running off the success of her also brief, but also impressive, performance in Black Swan (2010) - plenty of people also thought her performance was snubbed from an Oscar nomination. That shocking similarity in career status must have had some effect on why their chemistry is so great. Both are steadily setting themselves up for long, successful acting careers. They play two characters who wouldn't be caught dead watching the movie they are in and never shy away from calling out the cliches. All Timberlake and Kunis have to be is their normal, bubbly selves. Their performances, indeed, do make this film enjoyable to watch all on their own. A lot of times I find myself wanting something heartbreaking to happen to rom-com lovers just so I can see something new, but here are two characters that actually I care for and want to be together.
Even the supporting performances work well and don't seem thrown in for purposeless reasons. Woody Harrelson plays Tommy, and aggressively gay Sports Editor who provides good laughs at perfect times. Two Six Feet Under cast members make appearances also. Richard Jenkins almost single-handedly brings the heart and emotion into the film. His role Dylan's father who is suffering from gradually worsening symptoms of Alzheimer's is heart-stealer. And Patricia Clarkson has a more limited role as Jamie's impossible to tame mother.
Director/producer/co-writer Will Gluck has faced plenty of rocky moments in his career prior to this success. Starting in TV where he created Luis, which only lasted for five episodes, and co-created The Loop (2006-2008), running for a modest seventeen episodes. In 2009 he finally made the transition to feature films, his first project being the awful teen-drama, Fired Up. The following year, for his next project he stayed with teen-dramas where he had much more success with the Emma Stone vehicle, Easy A. And now that brings us Friends with Benefits, his third film in three years - this easily being his best and most mature. Using an R-rating not for excessive nudity - the most nudity we get is a little butt from both Timberlake and Kunis - but for realistic, sexual conversations and situations. Each conversation is full of sarcasm and wit that works so well that it must be from some personal experiences. Gluck's direction is fast-paced, always excited to get to the next scene. I doubt we will see Mr. Gluck working in anything outside of comedy, but each of his projects, so far, have been an improvement over the previous, so I can't help but be a little excited to see what he tries next.
Saying that for much of the film I had a permanent smile on my face would probably be ridiculed by the characters in the film, but what this movie reminds us is that even cliches can be fun and sweet. The fast-paced scenes where Jamie is showing Dylan New York City and its "non-touristy" charms has the films charm at its best; being able to explore the always wonderful areas of modern-day New York City is itself worth watching. The latter half does fall under the traditional formulaic cliches - not the least bit surprising. Wrapping up a rom-com is always the hardest part. There always has to be that struggle between the lovers and then that wonderful moment of enlightenment when all problems are solved in a picture-perfect moment of true love. This film, once again, is no different. But like I previously mentioned, when the film goes down takes a wrong turn at Cliche Dr. the appeal is still there. Prime example: the wonderfully sappy ending.
It has been a full day since I have watched Friends with Benefits and I still keep remembering little moments that bring a smile to my face. That is the absolute most you can ask from a rom-com, just leave some good moments in our head. My mind wasn't stimulated and I didn't get any emotional attachment, but I enjoyed watching it and definitely will be watching it again. If you are a rom-com hater, then I challenge you to watch this film and if you don't get any enjoyment out of it then you are indeed a lost cause.