There are moments in life when we are all caught between two worlds–checking the score of a Celtics game at a friend’s poetry reading, or reading a sex scene in a novel while squished up against a stranger on the T, for example. These moments are not necessarily enjoyable, but they are almost certainly awkward. “Friends with Benefits” is just that: a great sex scene almost ruined by the sweaty, pudgy arm of the guy sitting next to you.
The movie begins when corporate headhunter Jamie, played by an annoyingly likable Mila Kunis, persuades art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to take a job at GQ by showing him all that New York City has to offer. The movie gets off to a shaky start, forcing its rom-com hand—New York! iPads! Quirkiness! Flash mobs!—but once Kunis and Timberlake settle into their roles, there are some genuinely funny moments.
Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and Will Gluck
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake
The story continues as you would expect it to (and if you’ve seen No Strings Attached, you will definitely expect it), but the predictability is broken up by bits of clever writing and solid comedic performances from Kunis and Timberlake. Cameos from Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, and Jason Segel offer some unexpected laughs, while Patricia Clarkson appears to be director Will Gluck’s go-to zany/screwed-up mom (Gluck also directed Easy A), and with good reason.
Where the movie fails, though, is in the balance of its two worlds. Half the movie appears to be written by people who actually wanted to make a raunchy comedy, replete with gratuitous nudity and cursing, while the other half was generated by a romantic comedy algorithm. The actors struggle through the more formulaic rom-com scenes—all of the charm in the world cannot help Timberlake deliver a dramatic line. In one of its more ludicrous moments, the movie asks the audience to believe that Mila Kunis is something other than one of the most beautiful people you ever hope to see, a leap of faith that simply cannot be made. And then there is the inexplicable introduction of the father with Alzheimer’s. If it sounds inappropriate, that’s because it is.
In the end, “Friends with Benefits” becomes the exact movie it set out to satirize: sappy, unrealistic, and predictable, but sandwiched between the cheesy lines and the flash mobs (hello, 2007) is a pretty funny movie. It doesn’t break the mold like it wants to, but it succeeds in the most basic aspect of a comedy: sometimes, it makes you laugh.