Justin Timberlake definitively proves he’s a talented actor in Friends with Benefits, given the fact that his character is only an extreme mega-douchebag, rather than the tremendous, mind-blowing super-douche he usually plays. To be scientific about it, that’s an 85 percent reduction in douchiness.
The scaled-down level douchiosity is critical for Friends with Benefits, given that it’s a romantic comedy, and Timberlake is playing the lead, meaning you’re not supposed to actively root for him to be pied in the face. I wouldn’t say Timberlake is likeable in the movie – his character is a pompous, privileged magazine editor with a six-pack whose biggest dilemma is that he’s having too much sex with Mila Kunis – but nor is he Rupert Murdoch. You don’t need to be able to relate to Timberlake in the movie, just tolerate him. And Timberlake is nearly always highly tolerable.
This is Kunis’ movie, her attempt to rip the romcom tiara off Katherine Heigl’s wig, and she does so with her teeth, while sporting a mean yet still come-hither look in her mood ring eyes. Kunis is feisty and fun, and has a long career ahead of her in silly films such as this. She and Timberlake ping-pong contrived yet entertaining screwball comedy dialogue back and forth, in between copious sex scenes and soul-searching moments where each stares off into space. In those downtimes, they seem to be attempting to read the stars and discover how many minutes it will be until the next sex scene starts, to which the answer is usually three minutes.
These poor kids. You really feel for them, because they like each other so much that they don’t want to ruin it with all the sex. And they have so much sex that they don’t want to ruin it with emotions. So they sex one another into secretly falling in deep like, while becoming embarrassed of their feelings, as so often happens to all of us, day after day.
Director Will Gluck, who’s got a nice thing going, having directed the catch-you-off-guard funny Fired Up and Easy A, maintains his edge, peppering the film with humor that pokes fun at the contrivances of the genre while twisting them into something halfway exciting despite its predictability.
Above all, Friends with Benefits must be revered as an educational tool. The film correctly identifies New Yorkers as cheery people who convene for spontaneous flash mobs like happy, well-choreographed zombies whenever the plot calls for it. Likewise, Friends with Benefits identifies snowboarder extraordinaire Shaun White, in a cameo appearance, to be the demented street thug he’s always seemed to be when pulling off 1080 double reverse McTwistGriddle Deluxes on the slopes.
Bridesmaids has been ordained as the romantic comedy of choice for the year, but I’d go with Friends with Benefits. While the latter holds a distinct edge in diarrhea humor, FWB has it beat in Kris Kross references, which count double in my book.
Starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Written by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and Will Gluck, based on a story by Harley Peyton, Merryman and Newman. Directed by Gluck. Rated R. 109 minutes.