Friends With Benefits Review
By Bret Dorman
This movie is going to receive an automatic F because it commits what I consider to be one of the biggest crimes you can commit in a movie.
The Story: Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) are friends who decide to have sex. A lot. Then the movie starts to end and they decide oh crap we should have feelings for each other then hurt those feelings then be in love. Typical. Also, I’m not sure if you know about these things called Flash Mobs, but they are like, totes hip.
Okay so I tease you by saying this movie gets an Auto-F but really its just one aspect of the movie that makes that, in particular one scene. Take away that one scene and you bump the movie up. Take away that aspect and you bump it up more.
I like the performances by Timberlake and Kunis. They talked fast, had an answer for everything, and they didn’t seem like boring people, but rather fun characters. In a way they almost reminded me of old school comedies that relied on strong performers delivering dialogue full of words that years from now will make people giggle. This could have been something more. Honestly.
But instead it goes the normal route. They over edit most the chemistry right out of the performances. They make Patricia Clarkson some sex crazed super storm who is a bad mother but wants to be a good one except she just isn’t. Woody Harrleson is a gay man who talks about sex like womanizing straight men talk about women. The humor comes from the fact that he is gay? Or confident? or silly? I’m not sure.
But I’m not going to fault the movie for TRYING to inject comedy and just not doing it the way I like. Because in the end the movie is fast paced and a lot of time is actually spent on sex and some silly moments during sex (the sex is never romanticized until the end), and overall the movie does have a genuine playful tone.
I would like to question a couple of things.
This movie establishes the Justin Timberlake character. Then, about 3/4’s into the movie they give him two HUGE traits. A Bad Stutter and A Severe Problem with Math. They never once even acknowledge these beforehand. Storywise I know that he could have gotten over the stutter as a kid and it only comes out in extreme situations but this is a comedy… why give your character a trait that could be used for comedic purposes only to bring it up last minute? As for the math thing… yes, its a funny joke but how can we expect this guy to have gotten to where he is, basically a super blogger that runs companies, with the terrible math skills he has? Or at least why not make that an ongoing joke instead of bringing it up last minute?
So what’s the big crime? Friends With Benefits goes meta. That’s right folks. In an attempt to be witty and funny, Friends With Benefits acknowledges the fact that it is a romcom.It’s one thing if you want to make a movie that follows the rules of the genre and know that your audience is smart enough to know what you are doing, and the humor comes from you going WAY too over the top with it: Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror.
It’s one thing if you want to acknowledge what the conventions of the genre are and then follow them, but do so in a way that is still unique and interesting: Adaptation.
It’s one thing if your characters address what they are doing or about to do in a way that specifically calls what they are doing a movie: Last Action Hero.
But what you can NOT do is create a movie where in that universe the same romcoms as the real world exist and point out what those movies do and then use those conventions as dramatic pulls. Do not point things out if you are going to actually do them. That is not witty. That is lazy.
THEN! Not only do they point out things that they do later and not even surpass them or make it clever… They actually have to balls to COMPLAIN in the movie ABOUT romcoms while they DO the things they COMPLAIN about! WHAT. THE. FUCK.
There is one scene in the movie where they sit down to watch a movie and they are on the couch together. Its the scene before they become the friends with benefits. In this scene they go on and on about the stupid things romcoms do and they are bashing romcoms and I got so upset I actually wanted to leave. VERY rarely do I ever get so mad I want to leave the theater but I realized I didn’t pay for the movie so nothing gained, nothing lost and I told myself the movie could ‘get better’. Sure enough most the meta stuff is only in the first half, because they are too busy doing the stuff they complain about in the second.
Also, there is a moment where Justin Timberlake complains to Jenna Elfman about Mila Kunis. Why would he do this? Why would he be so in love with her and complain about her? Because what he doesn’t know is she’s in the room and listening so then she gets mad later at him and when she reveals she was in the room he was like I’m sorry I didn’t mean it! So he lied to his sister to keep Mila Kunis from ‘getting in’ and he did so in a very mean way only to a scene or two later realize that she IS the one and run after her and do the cliche romcom stuff they hate? Fuck you FWB.
Also in this movie Kunis shows Timberlake Flash Mobs because they are very ‘New York’ and exciting and something not everyone knows about or sees everyday and Timberlake takes Flash Mobs and exploits them to sell his company and the movie thinks that’s a good trait? Normally in movies exploiting something artistic is bad.
But FWB isn’t about subtleties in you getting what you paid for (if you did pay). You are paying for a crappy romcom and they tell you explicitly why their own movie is crappy. You are paying for Hollywood and they explicitly reward Timberlake for exploiting something by giving him an awesome apartment. If you like having people take your money and then make fun of you for it, then by all means… go pay for a ticket or two to see this movie.
Also Shaun White has a strange cameo that is funny in theory but White just doesn’t have the chops to pull it off. Sorry.
In Conclusion, I wanted to go in hating this movie. Then the movie wasn’t that bad. You take away the one scene on the couch and it would have been good but still frustrating. You take away the meta stuff all together and its an average romcom.
You know its a bad sign when the fake movie you make within your movie is funnier than the movie you made. Jason Segel and Rashida Jones star in an UBER romcom that is all too self-aware without shouting it from the rooftops.
Final Grade: (Automatic) F