Friends With Benefits A; Romantic Comedy Dir: Will Gluck Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman * * (out of 5)
Hollywood is hardly subtle in its attempts at jumping on to any bandwagon that appears its way (e.g. every other movie in 3D since Avatar), but the latest entrant in the friends-who-have-casual-sex-and-end-up-falling-for-each-other variant of the rom-com genre, Friends With Benefits, comes only a few months after the deceptively mushy No Strings Attached, which had the exact same plotline.
With great casual sex comes great sentimentality, but at least No Strings Attached had the good sense to reverse the roles by making Ashton Kutcher the mushier of the two. In this movie, Dylan (Timberlake) is the one who loathes getting too emotional while the sassy Jamie (Kunis) nurses the Prince Charming fantasy by constantly watching bad rom-coms (hilariously recreated by Jason Segel and Rashida Jones). Jamie is a professional headhunter who gets him placed in GQ magazine as art director and -- as is inevitable between two people as attractive as Timberlake and Kunis -- the pair eventually ends up sleeping together. Only, this isn't about romance (they liken it to a form of physical exercise -- "like tennis"). No, this is about physical needs only. You, dear viewer, already know where this is headed. Thus begins the downslide after a fairly enjoyable first half hour, with those tired chestnuts about men, women and commitment thrown around ("women can't separate sex and emotion", etc), and predictably, each one of these ends up coming true. The script, otherwise filled with profanity, in-your-face sexuality and some nudity (hardly anything in Indian theatres), plays out like a tame, conservative rom-com that promises much more irreverence than it delivers. Despite giving us nothing new to work with, Friends With Benefits is one of those effortlessly watchable movies. This can largely be attributed to the extremely charming lead pair that succeeds in keeping the movie afloat more. This really is a masterstroke of casting; Timberlake and Kunis are both attractive, popular and possess a mass appeal that extends from teenybopper audiences to self-conscious hipsters. They also share some wonderful chemistry on screen that translates extremely well from rapid-fire comic dialogue to emotional scenes, no matter how contrived. They are by far the only reason to watch this movie, although a short but memorable appearance by Elfman (remember her from the TV show Dharma & Greg?) almost makes the cut. Director Gluck directed last year's highly enjoyable Easy A (towards which this movie makes a couple of nods), which boasted of a very well written script and a solid performance from Emma Stone. Here, he works with an uneven script that gives us some great comic moments but fails to impress as a whole. Watch it if you must, but don't expect to remember much a few hours later.