Monday, January 23, 2012
Shut Up, Katherine Heigl, You Little Liar!
Film: Friends with Benefits
Director: Will Gluck
Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and Will Gluck.
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Nolan Gould, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone.
Running time: 109 min.
Remember that movie No Strings Attached, which was released just after Natalie Portman got an Oscar, seemingly undoing all of her good work? Well, Natalie Portman wasn't the only Black Swan star looking for an easy, breezy romantic comedy just after working her ass off on the psycho ballerina horror. Mila Kunis had Friends with Benefits, which incidentally runs along the same lines as No Strings Attached. It is a bit like comparing the original to the remake, but the Oscar-less Mila comes out on top, here. Friends with Benefits is smarter, funnier and it also benefits from the absence of Ashton Kutcher and the presence of Justin Timberlake. Sorry, Natalie - like Nina, your No Strings Attached was much too tame and shy. Friends with Benefits, however, like Lily, was 'not faking it'.
The basis of the movie is quite simple: friends Jamie (Kunis) and Dylan (Timberlake) decide to have sex without any emotional complications. This stems from the fact that both of them have just come out of relationships and have decided that they want to do away with their emotions so they don't get hurt or don't hurt anyone else. And yeah, that's pretty much it. So when this movie isn't just another excuse to have two reasonably good-looking Hollywood hotties doing it ALL THE TIME, this movie also works as a big fuck you to Hollywood romantic comedies. Jamie is one of those girls who wishes her life were like the average clichéd rom-com, but she actually realises that her life can't be like that and spends the rest of the movie telling Katherine Heigl to shut up and realising that true love might just be a fantasy. Which is all well and good until the movie ends as a Hollywood rom-com. Sure, it does have a tiny little twist, but that takes the back seat when we have this romantic gesture that spurs from an inside joke and previous experiences taking centre stage. Still, the film ends a little better off than the average, lovey-dovey, sugary romance.
Will Gluck last directed the brilliant teen comedy Easy A, which had its fair share of raunchiness but it also had something that Friends with Benefits doesn't have: the quick pacing and quick-fire lines. This movie moves quite slow for a comedy, which is all well and good for a touch of realism but in a comedy, things should be exaggerated and filled with laughs. That's why Easy A mostly succeeded for me, but Friends with Benefits just doesn't completely deliver on that front. Most of that is because of the parent issues subplots - Jamie with her wayward mother Lorna (Patricia Clarkson) who attempts to have a proper relationship with her daughter but fails every time, and Dylan with his father (Richard Jenkins) who is slowly losing his memory. While they were nice enough and reminded us that rom-com leads don't always have to have airbrushed lives, they felt like they were supposed to be in a completely different movie. Jenkins' role in particular was one I felt just didn't work. While he was absolutely heart-breaking in it, sometimes you don't know whether you're supposed to be laughing at him or feeling sad because of his condition. It may sound rude, but he kinda killed it, for me. Which is a shame because Jenkins is really good in it - but his character didn't really work.
Friends with Benefits is a little too drawn out to make a great comedy, which is where you think it is headed considering how good the opening is. Basically, Emma Stone steals the show within the first two minutes with her crazed John Mayer fan who is breaking up with Dylan. Scattered throughout the film are cameos from the usual team of comedians: Andy Samberg playing Jamie's ex, Rashida Jones and Jason Segel being part of a fake romance movie within the movie, and Woody Harrelson playing Dylan's gay colleague. Each of them provide several laughs, but this movie belongs to Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. If Friends with Benefits has anything over other Hollywood rom-coms, it would be that Kunis and Timberlake actually shared a lot of chemistry and the way they played off each other was just fantastic. Being two of Hollywood's hottest stars, you'd expect this to be more along the lines of "young people fucking", but they manage to overcome that and it is more along the lines of "two hot young people work through their first-world problems together." Which is fine by me. As long there is chemistry, or just something there, everything should be okay.
The movie isn't as raunchy as other R-rated comedies from 2011, which is good because it skips out on the unnecessary rudeness. It is also a lot funnier than the other movies of it's kind, considering how disappointing last year was for comedies. However, while this movie means well and manages to be quite entertaining, it falls back on the rom-coms it constantly makes fun of, which leaves this in the dreaded land of Hollywood clichés that fail to make a good movie. I do have to applaud it for keeping up with the times, though - the film feels spectacularly 'now', which is what many movies fail to do without over-analysing it.
What I got: