Friday, December 9, 2011

"Friends with Benefits" (2011)

Starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and Woody Harrelson
Written by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck and Harley Peyton
Directed by Will Gluck
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Rated R - Language, sexual content, nudity
Trailer (Red Band)

I don't care for Justin Timberlake................'s music, but as an actor, I find him to be highly enjoyable to watch.  Toss in a hottie like Mila Kunis, some witty foul language and silly situations, a dash of seriously emotionality and bam, you've got yourself a fun romp on the screen.  Really, romp.  Like, a lot.

Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a headhunter for a leading agency in New York who has been courting Dylan (Justin Timberlake) for six months.  Dylan has made a name for himself as an art director, and Jamie has a prime position lined up at GQ magazine.  Dylan finally accepts Jamie's offer, but Dylan is unsure of leaving behind his life and family in Los Angeles to go to New York, regardless of how prestigious the job may be.

After one night, of course, he's smitten with both the job, the city... and Jamie.  Though the two are merely friends, they hang out a lot and have obvious chemistry with each other.  One night after watching a sappy romantic comedy and drinking a large amount of alcohol, the two discuss the problems with having a sexual relationship with someone without the emotional attachments that usually come along with it.  Of course, the two are drunk enough to enter into an agreement to have sex, but to remain merely friends.

At first, it makes things a little awkward, but soon enough the two are going at it like rabbits.  Really.  Like, a lot.  Everyone around them seems to mistake them for boyfriend and girlfriend, but they both insist that they're just friends.  But eventually it becomes obvious that these two actually have deep feelings for each other, which becomes more and more complicated as each one is too afraid to come out and say it to the other.

Earlier I reviewed "No Strings Attached" starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, and I classified it as a "disappointing misfire."  While it was mildly diverting, the comedy wasn't funny enough nor the drama remarkable enough to make the film anything more than 90 minutes of background noise with a few good chuckles.  Happily, "Friends With Benefits" doesn't fall into this same category.

Justin Timberlake's appearances on "Saturday Night Live" have been some of my favorite episodes of that show in years.  The man has excellent comic timing, and uses it to great effect here.  Timberlake and Kunis bounce off each other well, delivering the script's often absurd language easily.  Most of the film's 109 minutes breeze by because these two are simply fun to watch, and the fact that they're both given such good material to work with helps immensely.

Of course, there are some problems.  For one thing, it's a little hard to take them seriously.  In this time of "Occupy Wall Street" movements, it's obvious that these two stylish, well-off and attractive people don't exactly have a lot in the way of "struggles."  They both live in fantastic apartments with amazing views that probably cost six figures a month or something, they're both very attractive people with jobs they love, friends they enjoy hanging out with, etc.  And yet, we're constantly asked to believe that they are both so damaged that they can't recognize that they're in love with each other.

It's not a huge problem, but there are definitely times during the film where you just want to roll your eyes and say, "For god's sake..."

The other problem with the movie has nothing to do with Timberlake or Kunis at all; it's merely an issue of tonal consistency.  In my review of "Marley & Me," I mentioned that that film suffered fro a problem where it would seem perfectly happy-go-lucky for a while and then sucker-punch you with some kind of tragic event.  The same thing happens in "Friends With Benefits" when we're introduced to Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins), who suffers from Alzheimer's.  A couple of times, this is played for comedy, and that works in an off-color way, but much of the way it's played is actually rather disconcerting and serious, which clashes with the rest of the film.  Ultimately, this late-addition subplot exists merely so that Dylan's father can give Dylan a piece of fatherly advice that will solve all his problems, but it seems trite and convoluted.

Still, despite these issues, "Friends with Benefits" is quite entertaining!  There are some hilarious cameos by talented actors like Emma Stone as Dylan's John Mayer-loving ex, Andy Samberg, and Bryan Greenburg and Masi Oka.  In supporting roles, Jenna Elfman has a couple of fine scenes as Dylan's sister Annie, who is raising her son "Sam the Magnificent" whose magic tricks always seem to go awry, and Woody Harrelson steals the show as Tommy, the gay sports editor at GQ who is constantly making remarks about penises.  Patricia Clarkson also gets big laughs as Jamie's wacked-out mother Lorna.

So while it might be a bit unbelievable and have some tonal issues, "Friends with Benefits" is a lot of fun.  It has an attractive, talented cast and a script loaded with some hilarious lines and funny characters.  But it does not have "Third Eye Blind."  Just saying.