Starring Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson. Directed by Will Gluck. 109 minutes. R
You’re probably familiar with the unscientific adage floating around, likely started by guys, which states that for reasons of fundamental genetic differences—I suspect carnal—that men and women simply cannot exist as ‘just friends.’
Emotions, hormones, body parts—whatever the reason, and believe me, there are plenty, one or more parties develops feelings beyond an amicable tolerance for the other person, forever ceasing their platonic relations—or at least blurring the boundaries indefinitely.
So naturally, a Hollywood probing of the friends-turned-casual-sex-partners dynamic comes along (actually two within a seven-month release date of each other), promising a nouveau illumination of classic male-female entanglement.
And alas, we are sorely disappointed. But don’t be too surprised: Hollywood’s expected happily-ever-after endings, however unoriginal, or in the case of Breakfast of Tiffany’s—spoiler alert!—contrary to the original text, are seldom avant-garde in their exploration of romantic interactions.
The latest rumination on the friendship-based hookup culture, Friends With Benefits, is sadly, no exception. With a premise similar to Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman’s just-sex-no-emotions situation in No Strings Attached, which opened in theatres last January, this film sees Jamie and Dylan enter a strictly coital union to have fun without the same messy, sentimental trappings of their emotionally dysfunctional-relationship pasts. Feelings ensue.
The film opens with both Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake) getting dumped for their flattened, uni-dimensional, gender-distinct problems of Emotionally Damaged (girl) and Emotionally Unavailable (boy). This allows for cute, quippy cameos of Emma Stone and Andy Samberg (of the brilliant SNL Samberg-Timberlake musical duo) heralding the break-up scenes.
This leaves the Emotionally Damaged and Emotionally Unavailable, sigh, back on the market again. Unbeknownst of each other’s pair-bonding defects, Jamie headhunts the Zuckerberg-like upstart Dylan in L.A., to be the next art director for GQ and they become instant BFFs.Their sharp, wittier-than-thou one-liners are oh-so perfectly timed and play out like two actors told to be irresistibly aloof in a smart romantic comedy. And like two pragmatic teenagers, they then consummate their mutual hotness and availability.
Like most casual relationships that develop between two compatible, equally attractive people who’ve yet to openly define what this actually is, the outside world reigns in on their perfectly functional dynamic and confuses them with soulmate babble and the importance of labels. It just so happens that Dylan’s prophetic anti-wingman is his charming co-worker, Woody Harrelson’s Tommy, a gay sports editor espousing uplifting counsel on finding “The One” and never letting her (or him) go. For Jamie, it’s her free-loving hippie mom (Patricia Clarkson) who conceived her in her own equally sexually liberated years. It’s also why she can’t remember who Jamie’s real father is and the reason for her daughter’s perpetual search for Prince Charming. Psychology 101 jackpot!
Despite the film’s inherent curse of being a Hollywood blockbuster, director Will Gluck (Easy A) delivers a charming, if romanticized, attempted time capsule on our cultural crop of star-crossed lovers. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s funny and inevitably boasts the credibility of two transitory already-stars—Kunis, a recognized TV actress and Timberlake of the boy-band fame-as bankable A-listers. (Though arguably, both have proven themselves as such with Timberlake’s role as Napster creator Sean Parker in the Oscar-nabbing The Social Network and with Kunis’ big-screen comic claim in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.)
It’s also the best thing to happen to Semisonic since rounding out the list of best North American one-hit-wonder bands of the 90s. B