I’m kind of burned out on the big blockbuster summer movies, so this week I thought I’d see Crazy Stupid Love. Then Girl Guide grocery bagging day occupied me for all the movie hours on Friday and I went on vacation Saturday (yes, I’m working on my vacation right now – you’re welcome). So I ended up reviewing Friends With Benefits instead, which came out last week. You remember Friends With Benefits. It’s that one that’s the same as No Strings Attached except it stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis instead of Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.
Two people who are fed up with relationships meet and decide to be sex friends instead of going on dates but end up fighting feelings for each other anyway.
After having seen both of the trailers, I declared No Strings Attached to be the better movie. I mean, hello! Natalie Portman! She won an Oscar! But now that I’ve seen them both, I have to admit I was dead wrong. While No Strings Attached was pretty laconic for a romantic comedy, Friends With Benefits was relentlessly hilarious.
Nobody goes to romantic comedies to be surprised by the plot, but I’ll tell you what it is anyway. Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a pushy New York headhunter who is looking to tap Dylan (Justin Timberlake), a girly Los Angeles web designer, as the new head of the art department at GQ magazine. They’ve both recently gotten out of annoying relationships with crazy people (they were dating Andy Samberg and Emma Stone, respectively).
“John Mayer is the Cheryl Crow of our generation!”
So after they become friends, they decide to forget about relationships and just have sex instead. It’s a given that they’ll end up falling in love (this is a romantic comedy, after all) so what’s most important is how funny and/or cute it is. I never understood Justin Timberlake’s appeal. Sure, we know from The Social Network that he can act, but he’s still kind of girly. They get around this factor by actually playing it for laughs. He gets hit on repeatedly by his gay friend Tommy (Woody Harrelson) and nearly everyone at his office assumes he’s batting for the home team.
You’re SURE you’re not gay?
I’ve never really been a Mila Kunis fan either. I’ve always thought she was a bit too in love with her eye makeup. Her go-to mode during her years on That 70s Show could best be described as bimbo sarcasm, but here she’s actually the smart one. Still sarcastic and brash, but smart. When you put the two of them together, the result, somehow, is cuteness. They’ve got a witty banter thing going on that’s actually witty as opposed to painful and annoying like most movies that try the witty banter thing.
JAMIE: I’ll be fine!
DYLAN: I know you’ll be fine! You’re not a baby in a hot car!
The dialogue is great, which is surprising, as there are six credited screenwriters, and constant re-writing by new people rarely makes anything better. In Friends With Benefits, we don’t just get the standard (read tired) rom com jokes. It’s actually really raunchy, which you would expect from a writer/director who was also responsible for Easy A and Fired Up! Therefore if you’re offended by swearing and sex jokes, this is not the movie for you. I, however, found it so funny that I actually had to jot down quotes from it while I was watching.
DYLAN: What? I’m good at this!
JAMIE: Well, they were either lying or their vaginas were made out of burlap!
It’s not just the raunch factor that makes Friends With Benefits so funny, either. There’s also an undercurrent of satire – not parody, but real intelligent satire – that pokes fun at the rom com formula while simultaneously following it, right down to the “peppy song at the end to make you think you had a good time.” They even made a fake romantic comedy called I Love New York starring Jason Seigel and Rashida Jones for Dylan and Jamie to watch and make fun of.
Oh pookie pants, etc.
There’s also a little bit more depth to Friends With Benefits than most other Hollywood phone-in rom coms. Instead of the usual 90 minute rush job where everything not directly related to the two leads falling in love ends up on the cutting room floor, Friends With Benefits goes for the full two hours so we can include Jamie’s former drugged out hippie mom (Patricia Clarkson), and Dylan’s whole family in LA, including his sister (Jenna Elfman), his magic-loving nephew (Nolan Gould) and his dad (Richard Jenkins) who has Alzheimer’s and an aversion to pants.
Son! Who’s your friend and why does she still have her pants on?
The result is a film that is surprisingly good. As a romantic comedy, it’s at the top of the heap, and what’s more, because of the satire factor, I think even people who look down on romantic comedies can find something to like about Friends With Benefits. Definitely choose it over No Strings Attached if you’re struggling with that tough call. The other one was boring compared to this. If you go, stick around for the end of the credits. There’s a blooper reel.