Friends With Benefits (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
14Dec/111

Friends With Benefits (2011)

I can't help but feel like I've seen this movie before...still, when in Rome!

It can sometimes get a little grating seeing the same plot recycled into an only cosmetically altered package.  Strange then, that Friends With Benefits arrives on my media system so soon after I've reviewed Love & Other Drugs and No Strings Attached.  Stranger still, how I can watch all three of these movies while coming away with a sense of enjoyment, if not entirely convinced those involved are capable of originality.

However, if the results continue to be as entertaining as these movies then I can't really complain.  The Marx Brothers made legends of themselves through their personalities and humor, not through the sparkling originality of their productions.  To this date if you were to ask me to diagram the plots of Duck Soup, Coconauts and Animal Crackers I'd come up empty.  But I do remember the strength of the jokes, which is an important measuring stick and why the plots of these films might be a bit interchangeable, but not impossible to determine individual strengths.  If you were to put them in a hierarchy Love would lead the pack, closely followed by Friends and No Strings putting in a respectable race.

There's really no reason to get too caught up in the plot details of Friends With Benefits, just to take a look at the personalities on display.  Straight off the bat we know that the comedy will be very well handled thanks to some expert deployment of Emma Stone and Andy Samberg (who now, I fear, may have to star in one of these films with each other).  They play the soon-to-be exes of Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake).  True to the conventions of these films they're beautiful, terribly successful, and horrible at getting the right person to link together with romantically.

Comedic hint - flash mobs? Already overdone.

As the plot machine rolls on they agree to a "no emotion" sexual relationship, and we, as the intellectually superior viewer, know where this is going.  However, aside from some clever swipes at standard romantic comedy tropes (courtesy of the amusing film within a film starring Jason Segel and Radha Mitchell), Friends is content to zoom right along with the leads into the land of standard dilemmas.  Emotion will get involved, problems will arise, and as if there isn't enough silly conflict, our good old friend Alzheimer's decides to show up.  No matter how good Richard Jenkins is, and I adore the man, he just can't elevate the shoehorned sickness plot above the laziness in which it was attached.

Forced dramatic conflicts aside, the sole reason to watch this film is to see Timberlake and Kunis do their thing.  They are, easily, two of the hottest stars working right now and they reach an immediate and comfortable chemistry with each other during their opening scenes.  This is built upon immediately, and the movie wisely narrows its focus to the two of them together with some pit stops in supporting best friend land, in this case played by the very funny Woody Harrelson and the slightly out of place Patricia Clarkson.

The film sometimes seems like it's having difficulty keeping up with the two of them as they get to know each other and writes dialogue to match.  Films that could take an entire scene to set up particular quirks explains them away in many spirited exchanges ("I keep my socks on.  Intimacy issues." "I hate feet.  Daddy issues.")  When the movie sticks with the main couple it glistens, when it stops for a Harrelson break it continues to shine, when it stops for anything else it comes to a grinding halt.

I could always use a little more Harrelson, but he gets some great laughs in during his minimal screen time.

Look, no one is going to go to Friends With Benefits looking to have their entire outlook on love changed (Scenes From A Marriage can accomplish this quite well).  But the film did not need to do anything other than be charming.  The Alzheimer's subplot is not "affecting", it just stifles the romantic growth we already know these two are capable of and kills the comedy we've come to love.

There's no harm in just showing two people happily falling in love.  It doesn't make for the greatest drama, but so what?  The Marx Brothers dispensed with plot and kept the jokes coming and, for the first hour at least, Friends understood this quite well.

Now if we can just stop mixing mental illness into these comedies, we might be onto something.

Friends With Benefits (2011)
Directed by Will Gluck.
Screenplay by Will Gluck, Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, and Harley Peyton.
Starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (1) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Nice review Andrew. Friends With Benefits is a dumb, by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Yet I kept finding small things to enjoy in it, mainly because of the two hard-to-hate leads. Check out my review when you can.


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