Friends With Benefits

Plenty of friends here, but very little benefits.

 A relationship with no drama. That's all Dylan (Justin Timberlake) wants out of his girlfriends. The realization arises when Kayla (Emma Stone) breaks up with Dylan, stating that he's emotionally unavailable. At that exact moment, Jamie (Mila Kunis) is getting broken up with by her boyfriend, Quincy (Andy Samberg) for being emotionally damaged. Neither want to go on dates and hear their flaws announced to the world. Their frustration in relationships initiates a plan: Sex without the emotions. No relationship. No love. Just sex. What's left to lose? Nothing could go wrong. Right?

Director Will Gluck (Easy A) isn't treading any new ground with Friends With Benefits. This story has been played out way too many times in the past year. Hell, this story has been dragged by the hair, beaten with it's own dead horse and left to die. If only anyone would let it die. The most memorable films to attempt to pull off the "we're-too-good-for-relationships" premise are Love & Other Drugs and No Strings Attached. In fact, No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits almost morph into the same movie at some levels. Except the chemistry was much more organic in No Strings Attached, opposed to the constant battle of "who's funnier?" between Timberlake and Kunis. Most people would classify what Kunis and Timberlake do in Friends With Benefits as bickering, and make no mistake, it is, but underneath the surface, they are fighting over who can conjure up the funnier line of the scene. And it becomes noticeable extremely fast. This would be forgiven if any other quality of the film stood out as original or memorable. Unfortunately for Friends With Benefits, these qualities are almost non-existant. 

In many romantic comedy cases, the supporting characters are used to liven up the screen when the stars of the film tend to get stale. Gluck understands this and strangles the hell out of his supporting characters, praying that they will help patch this sinking ship of cliches. We're introduced to the extremely eccentric Tommy (Woody Harrelson) who performs no joke outside of the world of being a homosexual. Sure, hearing Harrelson scream that he is "strictly for the dickly" is humorous, but every previous and remaining joke from Tommy is about how gay he really is. The goldmine that is Harrelson playing a gay sports journalist should knock audiences over, but fails due to the sloppy script that clearly focused too hard on giving Dylan and Jamie most of the laughs. Gluck also tries to strike gold twice by including his two leading women from his previous work in hopes that they will bring his new film to life. Sadly, not even Emma Stone nor Patricia Clarkson could bring enough fresh laughs to make things anything more than momentarily enjoyable. These characters should be hilarious, without question. But with a script like Friends With Benefits, these characters aren't allowed the freedom and longevity to truly shine. 

There's no denying that Friends With Benefits has its share of laughs. Laughs that actually sometimes feel promising, as if something might change and things will get fun. No such luck. There are a handful of moments where Friends With Benefits decides to be something other than what it is. Story lines are summoned out of nowhere and the audience is assumed to follow this story with complete dedication. Granted, these completely off-track plot lines would be enjoyable if their characters were sympathetic and interesting. And this is where Friends with Benefits falls hard. Audience members are expected to follow these characters for an hour and 49 minutes without hesitation and root for the inevitable to happen. There's no cliche missed out and the pacing of the story allows these to become screamingly noticeable. About 3/4 into the film, things become a little more interesting and almost allows the boring and predictable story to transform into a more interesting story altogether. But Gluck won't allow any surprises here and sticks straight to the normal romantic comedy plot line. 

Gluck gives it his best try and showcases only a mildly humorous performance from the pair of Timberlake and Kunis, but Friends With Benefits is sloppily written rehash of the exact same story we've been hearing for the past year. Plenty of friends here, but very little benefits. 

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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