It has a case of the cutes but then again what did you expect? Friends with Benefits does have its downsides with some thematic superficiality but it doesn’t do anything egregiously wrong. What it asks of Justin Timberlake (“The S0cial Network” was his tip-top) and Mila Kunis (“Black Swan” was her tip-top) is to represent the hard-working but emotionally unavailable twenty-somethings of today and their concession for sex without falling in love. The two of them know how to rag on each other when they’re not confiding in each other. Or bedding each other. What the makers behind the camera sometimes have is perhaps a snapshot of 21stcentury instant-gratification culture, but they evidently didn’t think longterm of whether they were making a timeless movie or not. This wants to strictly be a Friday night mallrat movie more than it wants to be a movie that says something about today’s time. Forget themes, it steeps into schemes. It wants to entertain and amuse with its self-conscious idea of contemporary hipness.
They meet over occupational pathways. It’s the new GQ editor and the headhunter/recruiter that job-placed him. It’s easy to be won over by a scene with Timberlake naturally getting in touch with a dance and sing-along to Kris-Kross’ 1992 party jam “Jump.” Ditto a scene of him teasingly disrobing and uttering “Oops” in the most precious way a hunk boy can possibly get away without looking unctuous. It’s easy to be won over by a scene with Kunis talking fast and manipulating tongue-tied boy to stroll into the middle of a Times Square musical number. Ditto a scene of her changing her top in the back of a cab while distracting the driver not by a peek-a-boo but with misdirection dialogue.
When I was 16 years old I would have found this movie sexy. It has shots of butts and sides of boobs, and skin like mine topping and rubbing against female skin. For the bedroom scenes, they gave Kunis a good bra and panty selection and her negligee clasps her body just right. They gave Timberlake and Kunis the segway to heat things up with some hard mouth kissing. But I have changed and the movies have taken on a new type of vulgarity. To me, “Friends With Benefits” is just like most American movies that turn the act of bedroom cavorting into an act of farce. Always with the loud and clanging music soundtrack. Always with the clumsy groping and the tongue-tripping and frantic instructions of likes and dislikes between partners. Always with that outrageous quirk of involuntary noises. We get a full shot of Kunis simulating orgasm. We also get a full shot of Timberlake of simulating orgasm but as typical it has to end with a coarse joke. French and Korean movies take a sexy human quality approach. See “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) or “Marriage is a Crazy Thing” (2002).
Most audiences don’t care about such things. They want to know if its fast-paced or slow. Honestly, it moves along briskly, alternates between trendy banter and affecting dialogue and even has some sweet moments. I guess what meddles with my taste is that “Friends With Benefits” is slapstick laden more than it is concerned with being a modern relationship tome of our times now. Too much emphasis is spent with what’s trendy now, and it will likely be fashionably dated overtime. Not unless we’re so in love with Timberlake and Kunis as performers that “Friends With Benefits” becomes a guilty pleasure a decade or two from now. You never know, that’s possible. There are less charismatic matinee idols getting paid seven-figures.
Relationship interferences and obstacles (bring in the tumult of baggage!) are obligatory in movies like these. Several elements hastily get colored in. When Kunis dates Bryan Greenberg (“Bride Wars”) who plays a hospital scrub, the results are real, down to earth, and engaging. Woody Harrelson (“Zombieland”) does a farcical and explicit homosexual sports writer who frequently uses the word “dick” in the midst of other words with eek zeal. Patricia Clarkson (“Far From Heaven”) is the farcical and liberal mom to Kunis. Jenna Elfman is the very normal, levelheaded sister to Timberlake. Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) is his dad suffering from the first stages of Alzheimer’s just so the movie can have a face-forward heap of poignancy. Sometimes the baggage in these movies just makes them longer than they have to be. Everybody is given drawn-out, capricious dialogue.
I went into belly-laughs over the cameos with Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, both from “I Love You, Man” (2009). The rest of the time I was in nestles of amusement, not much more. On that token, I find “Friends With Benefits” 110 times better than the similarly conceived “No Strings Attached” with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman from earlier this year. How did I come up with that seemingly bupkis number, you ask? Well, “No Strings Attached” was 110 minutes long and without doubt every single minute of “Friends With Benefits” is at least better than any single minute out of that fiasco.
109 Minutes. Rated R.
ROMANTIC COMEDY / SEXY IMAGES / FRIDAY NIGHT MINDLESS MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Before Sunrise” (1995); “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002, France); “Marriage is a Crazy Thing” (2002, South Korea); “No Strings Attached” (2011).