“Friends With Benefits” (2011)



Four stars for a predictable romantic comedy? Yeah. Go figure.

This is a familiar plot – two good looking people from opposite sides of the country happen to meet, become friends, and want to engage in casual sex with no strings attached. Part way through they realize (one way or another) they’re actually in love. Complications ensue, but they end up together. Yay.

What makes this movie work is the chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. I don’t know if they actually like each other, or they’re actually better actors than I give them credit for, but what comes across on screen is absolutely charming to watch. It’s been a while since I saw a movie couple who actually appeared on-screen to be – a couple – two people in sync.

There’s a slight role reversal in that Timberlake’s character is from LA and a little on the soft side, and Kunis’ is from New York and swears like a sailor. But it works. She manages the foul language in a way that’s cute while still believable. It doesn’t come across as an act or a schtick – it feels natural. And he is totally believable as an LA dude who now finds himself in New York. OK, that isn’t much of a stretch for him, to be fair. But his performance has a kind of innocence and honesty that is endearing.

The supporting cast is good and not overblown. Too often these kinds of movies have  a dozen people in supporting roles to prop the film up. Not in this case, there’s four primary supporting roles – the best being Woody Harrelson as the aggressively and blatantly homosexual sports writer for GQ. Again, the same honesty that is there for the leads is also applied to the supporting cast. Harrelson isn’t campy or fruity – he just likes dick. A lot.

The writing and directing is really good. Some of the usual cliches are in there, but it’s all blended well. Everything pretty much fits. One thing which is interesting is that, unlike most romantic comedies, this one is pretty serious about the people involved. The lead characters are both, by their own admission, emotionally damaged. They end up revealing enough about their lives to learn how and why. It’s not the usual “happy people finding happiness” or the usual “life sucks until I met him/her” crap. These are two people living at high-function dealing with real problems, who happen to find each other.

It doesn’t hurt that Mila Kunis is a total babe, either.

This one is rated “R” for language (and plenty of it) and sexual content. But it’s not tawdry. Again, everything works. Everything fits. The swearing fits the place and the people. And the sex scenes aren’t overdone.

This is a warm, charming and funny movie. Not really laugh-out-loud funny, but you’ll feel pretty good about life and love by the time you’re done watching. Check it out.

And, yes, this is hopefully the only sappy review I write all year. I’ll watch something where people get blown up next. Promise.