Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Friends (with Benefits) (2009) TH

When your friend's bed seems convenient

Six gals and guys--Chloe, Owen, Alison, Jeff, Shirley, Brad--who are all close friends figuring out what they want out of life, in a non-linear fashion candidly hang around with back and forth talks about drinking and sex with a lingering question in the middle: Can you be friends first before being physically involved and would it jeopardize the friendship if feelings arise? It just can't be done everybody defends. Little do the rest know that recently childhood companions Owen and Chloe are already rustling in the sheets currently without consequence.

They're all promiscuous anyway with everyone else but themselves, with Jeff a porn webmaster, Shirley a frisky bartender, and Alison a goody two-shoes looking gal who sees a sex therapist and has a plethora of wants and desires. Soon enough the cat jumps out of the bag about the two and eventually the other four are all going at it in a free-for-all, including man on woman, woman on woman, and man on man. For the most part it leaves out the point blank shots, except for one of the chicks being topless and everybody kissing. Some can't get the lust out of their heads, though feelings get hurt and things feel awkward as some didn't want to go that far. Meanwhile Owen and Chloe can't figure out what they have and if it should be taken to the next level since he's gotten a scholarship offer and she wants him to go on the road with her band.

"Friends (with Benefits)" is like a feel-good party that you wish you had an invitation as everybody is charismatic and happening with a beer in hand and is openly telling stories and jokes without an end in sight, but then suddenly somebody shoots the clown. Friends run in all directions with confusion and mixed feelings, but then attempt to carry on and mend what they had back together again. The beginning feels all over the place with random people, time lines and conversations that spark interest but only a minimal interval to appreciate them unless you hit the rewind button three times. That at least gives this replay value, but the dilemma with "F (wB)" is its latter pacing that attempts to show rather than say, but in contrast makes the picture look top heavy with ideas. It starts fresh with engrossing and inventive energy by saying a lot in a short amount of time, and those creative aspects can be appreciated in an indy film, but then it gradually turns into a predictable rom-com formula despite a few misdirections.

The exaggerated world they live in is filled with anywhere from catchy to sympathetic music of the soundtrack kind to lend feeling and atmosphere, with a tone of crude but fun perversion and at times seduction. The jokes range from interspliced shots with all cast included doing private interviews with a sex therapist named Dr. Richard Weed, to just exceptional sex stories and mishaps. "Friends (with Benefits)" has extremely good chemistry and at times surprisingly good performances between the cast. It sets up what their profession and hobbies are so the audience gets to know each of them and how it relates to their conversations and interactions. The principle players could have made several other movies together similar to how Kevin Smith's View Askew Universe is connected because they all seem like believably good friends who have some hiccups here and there but for the most part seemed tailored to their part.

This is a simple story surrounded by some workable and not so workable gimmicks, such as tediously being broken into 19 chapters ("A novel with moving pictures"), which at first seems innovative but eventually its ornate sails only get blown so far, not to mention it holds the audiences' hand every step of the way to what's going on. There are some split screen shots that effectively handle the characters interacting similarly but in different locations. It definitely has some funny moments, dialogue and performances that are charming enough that you wish you were actually there to be apart of, but part of this feels unrefined from getting a little ambitious with trying to tackle everything at once about the "big question" and then letting itself off the hook a little easily when it concludes. This goes from a snappy, somewhat wacky comedy to a slowly developing melodramatic romance. It went from not taking itself seriously with everything being in excess to expecting you to still be with them when they flip that upside down to polar opposites, as it turns sober with weighing the gravity of what they've done.

In regards to "No Strings Attached" and "Friends with Benefits" from 2011, this early movie from 2009 actually attempts to answer some of the questions, where those others had more of a guise at being provocative. "No Strings Attached" didn't actually have them as friends but rather childhood acquaintances with a guy with a heart who convinces a gal who hides hers to go further with what they have after getting used to each other and liking the stability despite it being unorthodox and not a "normal" relationship. "FwB" 2011 was a simpler and safer version but more in the direction of a poke (no pun intended) at other rom-coms with two suppressed romantics at heart who click because the unconventional terms they established were actually relationship material for them specifically. Where those others did borrow off of "Friends (with Benefits)" 2009, was they start out as somewhat goofy comedies that present a promiscuous premise and then revert back to a hopeful rom-com outlook, not to mention all boil down to emotions and show that it can possibly work under exceptions that they themselves frequently dismiss. Now that Hollywood ran the idea into the ground we need Adrian Lyne to make another come back with one of his sexy thrillers.

Director: Gorman Bechard (You Are Alone)
Starring: Margaret Laney, Alex Brown, Anne Petersen
Website: IMDB