Friends With Benefits is a smug little film that thinks it’s smarter than your standard, sappy rom-com. It makes fun of the genre, takes digs at Katherine Heigl and Nora Ephron, and even shows its characters watching the kind of schmaltzy romance on TV that it claims to be better than. But turns out Friends With Benefits is in fact a standard, sappy rom-com that’s just as predictable as all the others out there.
The film stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as naïve singletons who explore the possibility of remaining friends while they’re…umm…reaping the benefits. It’s a worn-out premise, last seen in the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached, which was a funnier film, and whose charming leads had better chemistry.
Here, Timberlake stars as Dylan, an LA-based art director who moves to Manhattan when Kunis’ character, an East Coast headhunter named Jamie, places him at GQ magazine. While showing him around the city and introducing him to such New York attractions as flash mobs, Jamie and Dylan become fast friends. When they realize they’re both recovering from recent break-ups and have sworn off romantic relationships, the young good-lookers enter into an arrangement to have sex with no commitment.
No prizes for guessing what happens next in this formulaic film that resorts to the same clichés and conventions that it snarkily disses. So you have Woody Harrelson as Dylan’s wise, gay friend who dishes out valuable man-woman relationship advice, and Patricia Clarkson as Jamie’s bohemian mom who giggles when she walks in on her daughter having sex with her friend. In all fairness, it’s Harrelson and Clarkson who provide the occasional laughs in this mostly forgettable film that gets progressively cheesier by the time they bring out Richard Jenkins as Dylan’s Alzheimer’s afflicted dad.
Despite its raunchy set-up, Friends With Benefits is a familiar, sickeningly gooey date-movie that never rises above its wobbly script. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis look a million bucks (both with and without their clothes on!), and they strike up a warn chemistry. But Timberlake has a cocky presence that betrays that leading man charisma needed to carry the film.
In the end, it’s strictly average entertainment if you have nothing better to do. I’m going with two out of five for Friends With Benefits. Watch it if you must.