Friends with Benefits (Review)

Strong cast carries satire of romantic comedies

Jul 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Friends With Benefits attempts to make fun of romantic comedies, while exploiting the same formula. It very nearly succeeds thanks to engaging performances from Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as the titular booty buddies and director Will Gluck (Easy A), who wisely opens things up with a strong supporting cast (Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson) that creates solid emotional grounding to help the high-flying contortionistic leads stick their landings in even the most unlikely and unrealistic romantic situations.

Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) don’t start out as BFFs from way back. In fact, Jamie is a New York headhunter who recruits Dylan from a hot indie blog in Los Angeles for a spot as GQ’s new art director (is this really a step up?) and woos him for the magazine and the city before the idea of sex enters the picture between the two of them — although they share complicated family dynamics, which leave them equally unsuited to long-term relationships.

It's almost more intriguing to watch the mother-daughter (Clarkson and Kunis) and father-son (Jenkins and Timberlake) than the sex-buddy vibe between Jamie and Dylan. The actors certainly are cute and spark well enough to generate heat, but the sexual banter tries too hard, whereas the family interactions speak to a smarter, more adult drama reminiscent of a recent film like The Family Stone. I, for one, wish Gluck had traveled that path because, in the end, Friends With Benefits suffers due to its slavish need to hook back up to the rom-com wagon rather than wandering on down its own friendly byway. Grade: B

Opens July 22. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.