Review of Friends With Benefits

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Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake play two friends who encounter complications with their no strings attached arrangement. Featuring an ensemble cast of Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Nolan Gould, Emma Stone and Bryan Greenberg.
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Movie Review: "Friends with Benefits"

Rating: R (contains adult themes, strong language, sexually-oriented nudity, drug use, some violence)
Length: 104 minutes
Release: July 22, 2011
Directed by: Will Gluck
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Stars: 3 out of 5

Romantic comedies are currently one of the most popular film genres among adults and teens, and Hollywood tries to feed that hunger with films like "No Strings Attached" and "Easy A." In many cases though, the films that are produced end up being rehashes of all the romantic comedies that came before them. Often this is because one crucial factor is ignored in the filming. Chemistry among the stars and the cast are the one element that can turn a brilliant romantic comedy into a tired cliche. "Friends with Benefits" seems to contain all of the signs of being just another typical Hollywood romantic comedy, but the undeniable chemistry between the two main characters, Dylan (Justin Timberlake, "Bad Teacher") and Jamie (Mila Kunis, "Black Swan"), save it from being tiresome and transform it into a fresh, engaging, and witty film.

The premise of the film is that friends, Dylan and Jamie, want to keep their friendship, while enjoying the benefits of coupledom on the side. They discover almost immediately that adding sex to friendship leads to some uncomfortable complications.

It begins at a fast pace, which is thanks to director Will Gluck's (Easy A) dispensing of plot mechanics, such as backstory, that might have slowed the film down. He brings Dylan, a Los Angeles-based media art director, and Manhattan-based corporate headhunter, Jamie, together immediately. Both characters are still nursing wounds from previous doomed relationships when Jamie convinces Dylan to relocate by tempting him with a chance at a dream job at GQ in New York. They soon find themselves acting upon their mutual attraction but later vow to keep it as a strictly physical relationship, without emotions or other demands that romantic entanglements tend to bring. Comedy and the expected sentimentality ensue when their feelings find a way of making a mess of that plan despite their best intentions.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis give funny and confident performances in this grown-up comedy, and the timing of their dialogue is almost perfect. Gluck gives the film a slightly hypocritical vibe, as it pokes fun at romantic comedy conventions, yet "Friends with Benefits" tends to do the exact things it criticizes. However, this doesn't diminish the appeal of Timberlake and Kunis as a couple, and the tired formula is made fresh as a talented supporting cast perfectly highlights the film's stars.

While viewers may feel a sense of déjà vu in the initial scenes, this is quickly forgotten as they become caught up in the banter and surprisingly funny comedy that makes "Friends with Benefits" shine.

One problem that might pull viewers away from the film is with Dylan's father's (Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor") storyline. Jenkins gives the most skilled performance of the entire cast, but the sad and depressing depiction of a man battling Alzheimer's doesn't quite fit into the film's lighthearted theme.

Woody Harrelson's (The Hunger Games, Zombieland) performance playing homosexual sportswriter Tommy Bollinger often steals the show, outshining his cast mates, but sadly there are not nearly enough scenes with Harrelson in the film.

The writing of "Friends with Benefits" brings it above other popular romantic comedies, but the numerous love scenes and nudity take away from the strong performances and chemistry of the film's cast. Had Gluck resisted the temptation to give into using sex to draw his audience, the film might have appealed to far more viewers. As it is, "Friends with Benefits" is a movie that is better for strictly adult audiences.