Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Friends with Benefits

For the last three months, this movie has provided me with a joke that I have been working ad nauseum. Basically it would unfold as follows:

A trailer or television spot for “Friends with Benefits” would run with clips of Mila Kunis as her typical neurotic self and Justin Timberlake doing his best Joseph Gordon Levitt “500 Days of Summer” imitation to try to make us forget he was once the front man for N’Sync. As said trailer fades to flack, I would turn to the whomever was with me and say: “Oh, I already saw this movie a few months ago when they called it ‘No Stings Attached!’” [Insert fake laugh track here.]

t was a fair assumption to make on my part given that I had been bamboozled in the past by carbon copies masquerading as distinct cinematic works (i.e. Armageddon vs. Deep Impact and Lambada vs. The Forbidden Dance). Still, like a moth to flame I ventured out to the local AMC waiting to be duped yet again. For once, I was glad that I did because other than a problem with pacing during the second act, I found the film both entertaining and engaging with just enough self-deprecation in its tone to make the inevitable schmaltz palatable.

In all of Timberlake’s previous jaunts into the world of celluloid, I found his presence disarming – a break in my “willing suspense of disbelief.” When last I saw him in “The Social Network,” my resounding thought was: “Oh that’s Justin Timberlake pretending to be someone who worked with Mark Zuckerberg.” Much to his credit, this film represents the first time he is able to shed his crooner baggage and immerse himself into the plot of the film.

As for Kunis, historically I have not been a big fan. Yes, I was one of the few who preferred Kristen Bell’s Sarah Marshall to Kunis’ Rachel Jansen. But in this film, she delivers a great quirky/off-beat/wounded character performance grounded with an in-your-face east coast aggression that makes her very endearing. In a most unique twist for a romantic comedy, the two leads actually have chemistry as not only paramours but also as friends. It is in this aspect it exceeds its doppelganger – the aforementioned “No Strings Attached.”

As for the film itself, when it is taking not-so-pointed jabs at friendships, sex, and relationships, it is poking fun at pop culture (sorry iPad, T-Mobile, and flashmob enthusiasts). Director Will Gluck makes good use of NYC and Los Angeles as backdrops to this story that will make you laugh when it is not tugging at your proverbial heartstrings. I would definitely recommend this as a date movie – if not in the cinema, then in the comfort of your own home.

Standout Performances: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake


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