Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Friends with Benefits (2011) TH

Hypocritic oath

This is a romantic comedy on the candid side that attempts to evenly round up both the female/male viewer by throwing out some honest, self-depreciating jokes about the sometimes awkward and frustrating aspects of what either side goes through when dating and attempting to secure a steady relationship. "Friends with Benefits" is an unchallenging film that comes across more as a spoof of other contrived rom-coms while still managing to fall into a few of the trappings and part of the formula itself the more involved it gets.

This is by no means quintessential and it's hard to say if it tackles the promiscuous question any better than "No Strings Attached" as they don't always take themselves very seriously but are more for brisk and painless recreation instead. "Friends (with Benefits)," the indy flick from 2009, answered a little more about the debatable question. The main difference between the recent "NSA," is it had one side who felt more attached than the other and previously they were more acquaintances than friends. All three seem like different experiences in their own little ways, but where both "FwB" 2011 and "NSA" borrowed off of "F (wB)" 2009 was they all start off as silly comedies and then revert back to a similar rom-com template, not to mention all boil down to emotions that everyone was trying to suppress. Now that a template is officially established, hopefully this is the last of 'em.

This has a very loosely laid out plot that instead of going for layer upon layer keeps it simple by concentrating on character development, leaving ample room to evaluate emotions and coming with little recognizable patterns throughout in the meantime that looks at their on-the-fly lives in the city and charismatic friends and family members. There's the premise: they go through unserious and unreasonable dates, then meet through business--Dylan (Timberlake) is from L.A., Jamie (Kunis) is from N.Y., now he moves to N.Y.--they become close friends and, of course, they're done with the emotional side of sex, hence they should be friends with benefits. Problem solved! Not exactly. Both are still romantics at heart even though they try and hide their emotions so they don't get hurt again with Jamie being a blunt, cursing New Yorker, and Dylan avoiding talking about private issues when confronted. They try and keep it cut and dry or as a "tennis match," but if it wasn't inevitable enough start to grow onto each other. They want to keep the friendship, so both date outside but confusion sets in if they should go back and further the connective bond they had.

From what at first has them yelling out calculated directions of how to please one another like a business transaction, this turns into some believable chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake with some spontaneity thrown in to give them some natural interaction. This comes with lots of undergarment shots, a few butts, as well as plenty of bedroom banter that only holds back in showing the full detail. Shaun White shows up as the token and somewhat pointless antagonist who's nice to everyone else but chides on Dylan because he had a thing with Jamie prior. Woody Harrelson plays the proud and macho gay friend Tommy who's got a thing for sports. Harrelson tries a little too hard, but still manages to keep one's undivided attention whenever he enters the screen just for what he'll say next. Patricia Clarkson--from "Easy A"--plays Jamie's irresponsible mom Lorna who goes through more men than floss and has some pretty humorous lines despite not being the perfect role model.

Everybody seems to be checked out when it comes to steady relationships, including Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins) who's going through Alzheimers but wishes the mother was still around and that he actually went after a former crush. This causes Jamie and Dylan to reevaluate what they had, despite the flaws and hangups, and the film from having rapid edits and quick quips in the beginning starts to eventually ramble on and turn a tad bit long so it can avoid falling into a cliche and sappy closer, which it nearly does so anyway. Who are they fooling? Even though some of the humor and serious subjects don't always mix at this stage, it was still somewhat mushy, easy fun that's perfect enjoyment for a date night or a relaxing nothing-to-do day. "FwB" doesn't necessarily answer any questions as it shows more than it tells, but when it concludes still comes with a few relating puns and jabs at what people go through just to find the right person, or who that right person actually will be outside of our preconceived notions. I guess there's hope even for the ones who want to cut to the chase and eliminate all those courtship rules.

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up!, Easy A)
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman
Website: IMDB