Summer Movie Review: Friends With Benefits

It’s become somewhat of a Hollywood trend this year: A talented lead actress is cast opposite of a big name who lacks any acting ability in a movie about two best friends who complicate their relationship forever by sleeping with one another. Friends With Benefits benefits from solid storytelling, a strong supporting cast, and an irresistibly charming lead.

The film serves as a Mila Kunis vehicle, with the talented actress shining brighter than any other star in the film. Kunis’ transition from sitcom-to-feature film has nearly been flawless, having built a reputation as an actress who is incapable of giving a poor performance. Ever since her portrayal as Rachel Jansen in the 2008 hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kunis has taken on some of the most diverse roles in Hollywood while. She followed that comedic masterpiece by starring opposite Jason Bateman in the Mike Judge’s embarrassingly underrated Extract before 2010 saw her standout in three very different roles in The Book of EliDate Night, and Black Swan. By proving she can carry her own film in Friends With Benefits, Kunis has become a certifiable movie star who is rapidly approaching Hollywood’s A-list.

In fact, her performance in this film may have been so strong that her co-stars on-screen mishaps may, in essence, be overlooked. While Kunis has had one of the most successful runs for a breakout actress over the past three years, Justin Timberlake has proven over that same time period that he is simply not a good actor. Timberlake’s acting career, to date, has been disappointing. He has typically been cast in supporting roles of bad films, such as Alpha DogSouthland TalesThe Love Guru, and this summer’s Bad Teacher. The one exception on his acting resume was his supporting role in The Social Network, but his performance suffered from his inability to deliver a line.

Drawing on faces: America’s favorite drunken pastime

Jamie (Kunis) is a successful headhunter who discovers Dylan (Timberlake) while he is working as an art director for a Los Angeles-based blog and offers to fly him to New York to interview for an opportunity with GQ magazine. To sell him on the position, she offers a personal tour of New York City, complete with drinks, dinner, and an organized flash mob in Times Square. After he accepts, the two continue to hang out, as Jamie is the only person Dylan knows in New York. A night of drinking results in the two forming a pact to have casual, emotionless sex without compromising their friendship.

With as much as was made of Jamie being emotionally damaged and unstable, not enough was done to exemplify the personality traits that the audience was consistently being told were there. Her unrealistic views on love and relationships might make her a sucker for sappy romance, but those views do not make her crazy. Further, while the audience is reminded of her instability, Jamie is portrayed as a rough around the edges woman with strong conviction. She comes from a broken home, raised by a mother who has a long history of running off with the next man, yet Jamie continues to somehow believe that “true” love exists.

She also shows quite a bit of gumption by standing up for herself on two different occasions after being mistreated by guys she thinks might be “the one.” Jamie has all the qualities of a leading lady, but despite the fact that she is beautiful, daring, confident, and quick on her feet, the audience is repeatedly told that her character has some serious dependency issues. It comes off as inconsistent, suggesting that the character with the most blatant heroic qualities is the one most in need of saving.

Dylan, on the other hand, has his own family drama going on. His mother walked out on his family ten years ago, and his father suffers from a progressively worsening Alzheimer’s Disease. When Jamie contacts him about the career opportunity, Dylan’s underlying concern is leaving his family. This is the burden he bears while in New York, and it’s exemplified when the pair travel to his home in Los Angeles for the 4th of July holiday. Dylan’s conflict regarding his father’s condition is among the most moving subplots throughout the film, and it is handled in a manner that is both respectful and comedic.

The relationship between Jamie and Dylan felt rushed at times, with important details of character back story being revealed on the fly. However, Friends With Benefits tells a charming enough story that minor oversights that attempt to add greater depth to already fleshed out characters can be forgiven. Despite the familiar theme and a not-yet-ready for prime time showing by Timberlake, Friends With Benefits is still one of the better romantic comedies of 2011 due to its solid story. As a follow-up to last year’s sleeper hit, Easy A, director Will Gluck continues to establish himself as one of the premiere up-and-coming filmmakers in Hollywood.
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