- Rated R
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All photos © Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ne could make a very convincing argument that “Friends with Benefits” is this generation’s “When Harry Met Sally.” Both movies feature candid discussions about the pitfalls of sex and how it can destroy a friendship, both feature amusing rapid-fire dialogue, and both feature fantastical closing scenes. (“Benefits” even name-checks Nora Ephron for good luck.) Let’s make one thing clear, though: “Friends with Benefits,” while funny, is no “When Harry Met Sally.” Hell, it’s not even the first fuck buddy rom-com to come out this year (ahem, “No Strings Attached”). It’s the far better of the two 2011 fuck buddy rom-coms, yes, but that isn’t exactly saying much.
Los Angeles web director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) has just been dumped by his girlfriend (Emma Stone) for putting his work ahead of her. New York executive recruiter Jamie (Mila Kunis) has just been dumped by her boyfriend (Andy Samberg) for, well, a laundry list of things. Jamie has been trying for months to get Dylan to come to New York and interview for a position with GQ. Eventually, he relents, lands the job, and moves to New York knowing no one but Jamie. As the two discuss their exasperation with relationships while admitting that they miss the sex, they make a pact to consummate their relationship, without those pesky feelings getting in the way. At first, it works like gangbusters. When Dylan brings Jamie home with him for a holiday weekend, though, the awful truth rears its ugly head, and one of them isn’t prepared for it.
Telling jokes nonstop isn’t easy. Some movies make it look effortless (“Horrible Bosses,” for example), but most of the time, the movies that pummel the audience with jokes end up looking desperate. “Friends with Benefits” falls somewhere in between. It delivers a lot of solid jabs, but it’s clearly trying too hard, a point made more apparent by the needless inclusion of a gay sidekick (a game but unconvincing Woody Harrelson) and an inexplicable downer B-story toward the end of Act II involving Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins). Playing against type and striving for emotional weight are admirable causes, but in this instance, neither was the right decision.
Fortunately, Timberlake and Kunis – particularly Kunis – don’t rely on their supporting cast to, well, support them. The scenes of them together are easily the movie’s finest, and their first sex scene is one of the funniest sex scenes of all time. Patricia Clarkson gets a few laughs as Kunis’ flaky mom, and Jenna Elfman gets one phenomenal below-the-radar laugh as Timberlake’s sister, but “Friends with Benefits,” despite the appearance of an ensemble cast, is a two-person show. They hit a (very) rough patch when the movie segues from like to love, but fortunately they stick the landing. And the movie within the movie is awesomely bad. Director Will Gluck also snuck in a nice callback to his 2010 film “Easy A” as well.
It may be as predictable as a sunrise, but “Friends with Benefits” manages to rise above the familiarity of the material, and Kunis deserves the lion’s share of the credit. To borrow a phrase from Roger Ebert, without her, the movie is unthinkable.