Saturday, December 27, 2014

Little of benefit in this rom-com mishmash

About the movie
Friends With Benefits
Genre:
Drama
MPAA rating:
R
for sexual content and language
Running time:
02:00
Release date:
2011
Rating:
Cast:
Mila Kunis; Woody Harrelson; Jenna Elfman; Justin Timberlake; Richard Jenkins; Patricia Clarkson; Bryan Greenberg
Directed by:
Will Gluck

He's "emotionally unavailable."

She's "emotionally damaged."

The movie: emotionally fake.

In Friends With Benefits, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are a hot and happening dude and dudette who've maxed out on bad relationships and messy breakups. They like each other, a lot. And they're attracted to each other, a lot.

So, they make a pact: Sex, yes. Commitment, never.

If we've seen this setup before (mere months ago with Ashton Kutcher and Kunis' Black Swan rival, Natalie Portman, in No Strings Attached; and last year with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in Love & Other Drugs), so have writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, and director Will Gluck. I can't think of another recent rom-com that cites other movies and TV shows as rampantly, and gratuitously, as this one.

Here's what I scrawled down: Pretty Woman, George Clooney, Seinfeld, Nora Ephron, Harry Potter, Will & Grace, It Happened One Night . . . and I'm sure there are others I missed. And one of Timberlake's character's running gripes - he's Dylan, an art director just moved from L.A. to N.Y.C. to take the reins at GQ - is the music that cues audiences to respond to a meet-cute, or a meaningful moment, in a romantic comedy.

Instead of gleaning something from real life, the great minds behind Friends With Benefits slapped their ideas together based on screwball classics, Sleepless in Seattle bits, and a keen analysis of Hollywood hackery. (Which they proceed to ignore - the music cues in Friends With Benefits are just as manipulative as the ones in the films Dylan critiques.) And let's not even talk about the two "flash mob" musical numbers.

Timberlake and Kunis - she's Jamie, a headhunter who gets Dylan his job, luring him away from his gig at a heavily trafficked website - have no trouble conveying their appeal to each other, or to us. The sex scenes are raunchy and comic, the language R-rated and rat-a-tat-tat. There are iPad jokes and Captain Sully jokes and John Mayer jokes - lest we mistake this for a vintage Tracy/Hepburn vehicle. Olympic snowboarder Shaun White does a goofball cameo, and Woody Harrelson plays a proudly gay coworker who commutes to Manhattan from New Jersey via his 1937 Chris Craft. How cool is that?

Patricia Clarkson is Jamie's kooky, unreliable mom. And Richard Jenkins is Dylan's dad - who has Alzheimer's (but with "moments of clarity," reports Jenna Elfman, as Dylan's sister). Playing the Alzheimer's card is particularly offensive, and the usually game Jenkins looks pained doing so, especially when he must pull the ostensibly funny gag of forgetting to wear his pants in public.

But then Timberlake takes his pants off, too, and everything is right in the world.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.

 

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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