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On the Radar

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Friends?

RIOT OF JOY - Ramon De Veyra -

Despite a natural chemistry between its leads, Friends With Benefits only marginally improves on the same concept that the earlier release, No Strings Attached, tackled.

Friends who sleep together with no romantic involvement isn’t a new thing, but for whatever reason, it piqued Hollywood’s fancy and we had two films on the subject coming out within a year of each other.

The question “Can friendship and sex between men and women remain clearly defined?” has been around a while. For the best example Hollywood has ever made on this, see When Harry Met Sally.

Alas, Friends With Benefits is no When Harry Met Sally.

The problem with Friends With Benefits, if I may stretch another metaphor, is that it climaxes too early. Take the first scene: a love quarrel. It’s got Andy Samberg and Emma Stone, the latter of whom is stellar at playing someone so upset she missed John Mayer singing Your Body Is A Wonderland that she says, “Next time, just sh*t on my face. Because that’s kind of the same thing.”

“Why yes, this IS how I normally wear a towel. Wait, why are you laughing?”

It sets up an unspoken promise that the rest of the film will be just as interesting. Except that this first scene is a rip-off of the first scene of the far superior British sitcom Spaced, and the remaining 70-80 minutes of Benefits just breaks that initial early promise.

Actually, there’s another problem: it sets up ridiculous goals for itself. After that first scene we’ve got Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis being cool and “meta” by railing against the expectations and false realities set up by Hollywood rom-coms. In fact, the funniest bit in the entire film was when Kunis screams “Shut up, Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar!” at a movie poster of the poster girl for bad rom-coms (Knocked Up excepted).

When you make bold statements like that, taking to task other films in your genre, you better follow up with something: a) different, or b) classic, but with a clever twist.

The film disappointingly does neither. It’s a shame because the director is the same guy who gave us Easy A last year, and that was a teen film that was able to jump out of its genre expectations in a good way.

Patricia Clarkson’s free-spirited mom stands in for the role of Mila Kunis’s “best friend.”

Guess lightning didn’t strike twice.

That all said, it’s got a fine supporting cast in Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’s free-spirited mom and stand-in for the “best friend” role; Woody Harrelson as Timberlake’s gay co-worker, who gets some of the best lines; the always adorable Nolan Gould (Luke from Modern Family) as a wannabe magician; and Richard Jenkins, who takes a scene in an airport that would be rote with any weaker actor and makes it work seemingly from sheer force of acting will. It also did me the favor of reminding me how awesome Kriss Kross’s Jump is.

ANDY SAMBERG AND EMMA STONE

EASY A

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

JOHN MAYER

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE AND MILA KUNIS

KATHERINE HEIGL

KNOCKED UP

PATRICIA CLARKSON

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY

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