“Friends with Benefits” Movie Review

    I know what your thinking.  Didn’t a movie just like this come out a few months ago with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher?  The answer, of course, is yes, but the new film “Friends with Benefits” succeeds anyway.  Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star and have enough chemistry and display a definite charm which carries the audience from beginning to end.  It doesn’t hurt that the film has a witty and creative script which gives all of the characters plenty of funny and interesting things to say.  Even with two stars some might consider only B level, I liked “Friends with Benefits” better than the aforementioned “No Strings Attached.”

    The story follows a corporate head hunter named Jamie (Kunis) who is sent to Los Angeles to talk a successful blog editor named Dylan (Timberlake) into taking a job in New York with GQ magazine.  Her charming personality wins him over, as does the lucrative job offer, and he accepts.  Once in New York, the two become friends as Jamie shows Dylan the highlights of living in New York.  As you are probably aware, the premise from here is pretty straight forward.  At the beginning of the film, both are shown ending relationships because of emotional complications.  Together, they even watch faux romantic comedies and break down the unrealistic nature of the genre.  Ultimately, they decide to have a sexual relationship, but only remain friends.  In other words, avoid the emotional baggage that comes with a full blown relationship.

     Friends with Benefits is without a doubt predictable, but what happens along the way makes the film an enjoyable experience.  As I mentioned before, the characters are interesting and pack quite a punch personality wise.  Woody Harrelson plays Tommy, a sports editor for GQ,who is openly gay.  Each time he appears in scenes with Timberlake, the conversations lean to the raunchy side.  Lets just say Tommy is out of the closet and quite comfortable with his sexuality!  One of the most heart warming characters is Dylan’s father played by Richard Jenkins.  He suffers from the early signs of Alzheimer’s and his scenes are a vivid reminder of the curveballs life can throw at a family sometimes.

     Certainly this film would never succeed if not for Timberlake and Kunis.  Timberlake plays Dylan as a likable and sincere kind of guy.  Many of the witty scenes in the film center around his various quirks, especially a tattoo he is over sensitive about.  Particularly funny is a recurring joke where he sings lyrics from what he believes is a “Third Eye Blind” song.   This role  is a nice turnaround from what was a horrendous performance in “Bad Teacher” earlier this summer.  In that film, he had nothing to do but stand around. Here Timberlake is able to show off a bit, just as he did stealing scenes in “The Social Network.” 

     The real star of this film is Mila Kunas as she shows she is ready to blossom into a bonafide female lead.  I see her as a young Angelina Jolie, both with her mannerisms and her physical appearance (lips!).  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in an interview down the road that she was inspired as a young actress by Jolie.  Kunas plays the role of Jamie with a certain spunk you just can’t teach.  I saw this in her in last years “Black Swan”, but Natalie Portman owned that film.  Here Kunas is the owner.  Her performance is a credit to director Will Gluck and his army of screenwriters, as well as her ability to execute the material in this manner.  Lets face it.  The film is about two people having casual sex, yet Kunas succeeds in making the film about more than that.  The many relationships in the film are fully explored from top to bottom, which adds an unexpected complexity to the story.  In a film like this, you have to care about the characters and that wasn’t a problem for me.  I suspect this won’t be the last time we see these two paired up in a film.  They’re just too natural together. GRADE: B