What happens when a girl who has grown up on rom-coms discovers that life is not at all like the movies? What does she do when she is in the mother of all rom-com settings (New York), and true love eludes her time and again? She decides to put a hold on her emotions and "be like George Clooney" (read - single and loving it). This fresh take on the obstacles that hinder the path of love is what saves Friends With Benefits from being yet another done-to-death, painfully mushy Hollywood romantic comedy.
Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a head-hunter in New York, who recruits the talented Dylan (Justin Timberlake) from Los Angeles as an art director for the famous magazine, GQ. The self-doubting Dylan is reluctant to leave LA, but Jamie convinces him try the Big Apple out. Besides hitting it off instantly with Dylan, Jamie has her motives for wanting him to stay - she gets a big fat commission if he sticks to the job for a year.
They hang out together regularly, and Jamie shows Dylan the non-touristy New York. Drawn to each other, first as friends and then as lovers, they become bed-buddies without any strings attached.
What happens next is anybody's guess, but it takes some time to get there. Almost 2 hours in length, Friends With Benefits introduces new characters every time you think it is heading towards the climax. The end, when it finally arrives, is a bit of a let-down. Will Gluck makes it a point to pan other movies of the genre in a number of dialogues in the film, but falls prey to the same trap himself.
Jenna Elfman as Annie, Dylan's sister, is apt for the role. She adds a certain level of maturity as the single mother who has sacrificed her life to take care of her son and her Alzheimer's-stricken father (Richard Jenkins). Richard Jenkins as the father is conventional casting, but Nolan Gould, who plays Dylan's nephew, is a revelation in his blink-and-you-miss-him role - no saccharine-sweet/over-smart/annoying/irrelevant lines, thankfully.
Woody Harrelson, breaking away from his previous portrayals, plays a gay sports editor. However, he is as eccentric as the pessimistic Charlie Frost in 2012
. Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's bohemian mother looks drunk most of the time. The relationship between Jamie, a die-hard romantic, and her hippie mother is the most unconvincing track in the movie. The fact that she changes Jamie's mysterious father's ethnic identity in every mother-daughter chat, is a bit exasperating.
What makes the movie watchable is the crackling chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. They are completely at ease with each other, whether they are walking on the streets of New York or gambolling in bed. Their eyes never leave each other when they are in the same frame, lending credibility to rumours of their link-up. Even their bantering is natural and witty, unlike the forced conversations in other regular rom-coms with similar premises.
Justin Timberlake is a far better actor than a singer, but watch out for the Kriss Kross song, 'Jump Jump', that he suddenly breaks into. His eyes are a strange blue, but he is sincere and endearing. The star of the show is Mila Kunis, though, with her huge eyes that mirror toughness and vulnerability together.
In production design, the 2 flash mob scenes deserve special mention. The fact that the filmmakers pulled them off speaks volumes about the professionalism and commitment of the crew. Special effects are a little shoddy, like in the plane, and the Hollywood sign sequences. Camera work is also a little shaky, and New York and Los Angeles are not exploited at all, considering the characters are always debating on the differences between the 2 cities.
Good for a date, Friends With Benefits is worth one watch, not only for the sizzling on-screen attraction between the lead actors and for the flash mob sequences, but also because you may also be able to identify or empathise with the characters and the situations depicted.