Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Squalor: Friends with Benefits

The joke was that Friends with Benefits is an unnecessary movie.  It's a clone, a bit of deja vu, a rehashing of No Strings Attached with the other half of the Black Swan lesbionic duo.  Then, the comments changed to an acceptance of Friends with Benefits as the better, funnier version of No Strings Attached.  Granted, the latter was certainly no prize winning stallion, and I'd prefer to see Justin Timberlake over Ashton Kutcher any day, but is this really the better of the two?  Hard to say.  Since, however, I lost interest in seeing how this played out somewhere in the middle, I'm going to go with a rather tepid maybe not.

Where No Strings played off of bright, sunny, Califorina vapidness to achieve total nothingness, Friends attempts to be so self-aware of its own habitation of the sphere of romantic comedy drivel that instead of managing meta-commentary, it's often painfully phony.  There were several points of no return for me: one comes early in the film when we're forced to witness a remarkably cheesy flash mob "I <3 NY" non-sequitor as a sales point for Manhattan, the second comes later when, instead of speeding along with relationship dynamics, we're given a sad, sticky, unpleasant bit of senility to grapple with in a film that's otherwise all fluff and pop culture references.  After a few amusing enough scenes, I was left cold and almost entirely unsure what Friends with Benefits was trying to be.  Basically, I stopped laughing, started eye rolling, actually checked my phone, and concentrated on possibly getting a burrito once the credits rolled.
The story is just as you expect, and the progression of events is fairly conspicuous as well.  Justin Timberlake plays Dylan, a smart-talking magazine art director who has opted to be emotionally closed off.  Mila Kunis is Jamie, the head hunter responsible for spearing Dylan and dragging him across the country, who has also decided to be emotionally unavailable.  Jamie is portrayed as social, but we never actually meet any friends closer to her than Dylan quickly becomes.  The lead-in to Jamie and Dylan's sexual tennis pairing (there's really nothing else to call it) features a fair amount of comedic moments, and their first session is admittedly hilarious.  As things progress, however, the film drifts further and further into cliche, tedium, and an oddly delusional sense of its own uniqueness.  That burrito began to feel as though it were hours away.  Only Woody Harrelson's magical momentary appearances as a stupendously gay GQ sports editor could save me from the unceasing pop playlist of mediocrity and meh.
I had hopes for Friends with Benefits.  The cast was right.  Down to the supporting roles (Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's mother, Richard Jenkins as Dylan's father, Emma Stone in a fleeting scene as Dylan's ex-girlfriend), the actors involved promised something potentially sharp, biting, and savvy.  What I wanted was a solid contemporary sex comedy, but Friends with Benefits only had moments in which it stayed out of the shallow end of the Hollywood rom com pool.  In those moments, it allows for some clever modern turns. Jamie is a fresher, far more capable female character than the bulk of Heigl and Hudson brand leads we usually see.  She makes her own decisions for the sake of her own independence without seeming damaged in the way Natalie Portman's No Strings character was.  Her personal allegiances, and the sincerity of the friendship between Jamie and Dylan, are the film's saving graces.  It's hard not to like Timberlake and Kunis, but it's all too easy to take note of the flinch-worthy breeziness of the script, the way the sounds always seems to be laid too loudly over muted, unrelated pop songs, and how stilted the exchange of clever remarks feels.  In the end, unfortunately, the positive aspects are piled under constant GQ advertisements and sit com sensibilities.  Friends with Benefits is a distraction, but of the syndicated rerun variety and not the rollicking bit of fun one might hope.  It really would have been better, for example, if I'd been sitting on the floor eating a burrito and watching it on TV.  Want a rom com?  Go see Crazy, Stupid, Love.    

1 comment:

  1. Kunis and Timberlake achieve the trickier feat of looking just as happy hanging out as they do sucking face, and when the clich├ęs inevitably come rolling in, they feel earned rather than like a cop-out. Good Review!


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