Friends With Benefits (15)
Release date: Friday 9 September
Cast: Justin Timberlake (The Social Network, Bad Teacher), Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, The People vs. Larry Flint)
Director: Will Gluck (Easy A)
Screenwriter: David A. Newman, Keith Merryman (A Crush On You), Will Gluck (Gary and Mike)
Running Time: 109 mins
As Frightened Rabbit acknowledged, “It takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm”. More so, it would appear that even fucking someone you DO know won't assist in keeping the cold at bay as proven by 2011 cinema.
When it was first announced there would be two competing films this year dealing with the oh-so 21st Century problem of dipping your pen in the friendship ink it was clear from the offset which would be victorious. In the red corner: No Strings Attached. An Oscar Winning Natalie Portman, the director of Ghostbusters and the first person to hit 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. In the blue corner: Friends With Benefits. The supporting actress to the aforementioned Oscar winner, a director with only one previous success and the second male lead in Bad Teacher.
Only one victor surely? But this is the ever unpredictable Hollywood so in the end... the winner, by a knockout, in the blue corner! Friends. With. Benefits.
Dylan and Jamie are dumped by their respective partners. He for being too distant, her for being too clingy. When Dylan is subsequently head-hunted by Jamie the pair strike up a wiki friendship that just so happens to coincide with them swearing off long-term relationships. But celibacy is not an option and so the friends decide that 'buddies what lunch' can also be 'buddies what funk'.
Friends With Benefits may well be the most aspirational film of the decade. What Grand Designs is to the Middle Class, FWB (as the cool kids are calling it) is to twentysomethings. To paraphrase Tyler Durden from Fight Club, “All the ways you wish you could be, that's them. They look like you wanna look, they fuck like you wanna fuck. They are smart, capable and, most importantly, they are free in all the ways that you are not”.
Their well-paid jobs, their bodies to die-for, their houses by the beach, even their fucked up but interesting parents will be more preferable to your mundane run of the mill careers, flabby guts, crappy rented accommodation and, well, however much you love your Ma and Pa, neither of them are Richard Jenkins or Patricia Clarkson.
So by all rights FWB should be painfully smug. Smugger than South Parks' Gerald Broflovski driving through San Fransciso in a hybrid. But it isn't. Or rather it is, but its inherent smugness doesn't in any way derail what is ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable date-movie.
So what makes it enjoyable? It's certainly not the obtrusive soundtrack (The Smiths, Death Cab For Cutie x2, Kriss Kross! Semisonic!) that jumps to the foreground whenever anyone stops talking for a moment. It's not the barrage of (mostly American) pop culture references from Captain Sully to Angry Birds by way of flashmobs and Shaun White. It's not Justin Timberlake who while capable, falls short when he's asked to bring the comedy, proving he's not quite ready for that lead role.
Arguably the movies success lies with Mila Kunis, and lying with Mila Kunis is something well over half the audience will want to do by closing credits. Funny, affectionate, dirty (but in a 15 rather than an 18 kind of way), she's interestingly interesting in a way that doesn't scream “wow look at me I'm fucked up isn't that cool!” Thanks, in no small part, to the scene in which she teaches Trousersnake the correct way to administer oral pleasure, the marine that asked her out via YouTube may find himself with a plethora of competition.
In the same way the high school set Easy A (Director Will Gluck's last film) borrowed heavily from the world of John Hughes, Friends With Benefits owes such a huge debt to Nora Ephron and Cameron Crowe it's in danger of having its credit rating down-sized. On top of that FWB has the chutzpah to have its main characters talk about how “life isn't like a big romantic Hollywood film” right slap bang in the middle of what is essentially the biggest, most romantic Hollywood film to come along in an age. It's a move that is either exceptionally brave or dangerously, it's that word again, smug. Your view of this point will influence heavily your enjoyment of the film as a whole.
While it never quite scales the heights of Will Gluck's previous – the fantastic Easy A – it does share enough of its DNA to be worthy of your weekend pick and, in our book, any film that has Woody Harrelson as a cock hungry sports editor deserves a view. For anyone wanting to burst the myth of Hollywood love ever-lasting you may not find it very beneficial, but it sure is friendly.