"Friends With Benefits" is sexier, smarter and funnier than your average romcom--faint praise to be sure--but not nearly as good as it could've been.
Will Gluck came out of nowhere last summer with "Easy A," one of the year's surprise hits, a clever take on the teen-sex comedy. "Friends With Benefits," starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, finds Gluck trying to do the same for the romcom—but he falls just short, with a number of questionable choices hamstringing his two stars.
Kunis stars as Jamie, a New York City headhunter who recruits Dylan (Timberlake), an indie web publisher, to be art director at GQ. As luck would have it, Dylan agrees to fly in from L.A. for an interview just days after both he and Jamie have been dumped and accused of being emotionally unfit for relationships.
Men and women have been trying to enjoy sex without emotional constraints about as long as they've been enjoying sex. And when they look as good as these two do and are single, well… But as timeless as humanity's quest for uncomplicated sex may be, the timing of "Friends With Benefits" is way off—in more ways than one:
All the obvious jokes that the "FWB" conceit calls for were done, albeit terribly, just six months ago in "No Strings Attached," which starred Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Ever heard someone blow the punchline on a joke? And then they try again, and the best you can offer the person is the acknowledgement that yes, that second version would've been funny—if only it had been the first version. "FWB" even finishes in second place to Russell Banks' "Arthur" remake for a key plot point. And flash mobs? Seriously? Still?
Dylan's reaction to his first trip to New York City is absurd. He's supposed to be a hot-shot web entrepreneur whose blog generates 6 million hits a month (to dream…), and was born and raised in LA, with a father who was an award-winning journalist. And yet, Dylan is such a hayseed that his eyes bulge at the very idea of jaywalking, cabbies hurl profanities at him and he can’t believe the traffic. If Dylan were from Iowa or a shut-in or if this were the '80s, some of these NYC IS CRAZY! jokes might work, but that's not the case.
It's a shame, because Timberlake and Kunis are great together, both attractive (these two spend a lot of time in various stages of undress) and likable presences who are more than capable of making a film like this work. and it doesn't help that the faux romcom within "FWB" scores way more laughs per minute.