Friends With Benefits

Zero Stars

Review by Maria Markosov

Not sure how a cool actress like Mila Kunis and a talented performer like Justin Timberlake were coaxed, cajoled and coerced into making “Friends With Benefits”, and even why big talents like Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins found their way into this throw away idea. My willingness to be open-minded about what new and exciting adventures this film could offer were quickly dispelled in the first few minutes, where my intelligence got assaulted by a constant barrage of unlikely and lame moments.

Initially the filmmakers decide on a cute and obvious device to have the two leads on the phone, both providing excuses for being late while rushing to meet…we are led to believe…each other. We soon discover it’s not each other (ha ha ha!) but their current boyfriend/girlfriend, played by Andy Samberg of SNL short film fame, and Emma Stone. Not sure why they thought that was clever when clearly we know the leads are only “friends” from the title of the film and the previews. But nevertheless, we are treated to a back and forth of two breakup scenes as soon as the stars arrive at their destination. Both Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are being broken up with for obnoxious and whatever reasons. “Well your eyes are kind of big and freak me out sometimes.” “You’re not emotionally available.” After watching that, I wasn’t sure why the writers didn’t just go with “I’ve had it with you. I’m outta here.”

Next we are to believe that Mila Kunis is the type of very personal executive recruiter that meets with her clients at airports, wines and dines them and takes them to her favorite spots that no one has ever been to. But not before we have to watch Kunis jump into the baggage claim carousel at the airport, heels, short skirt and all, just to retrieve a piece of paper with her client’s name on it. Never mind that she’s also portrayed as so ‘on the ball’ that she could probably remember his name and would know what he looks like since she’s an iphone addict; but then your first mistake is to start thinking at all. Back to the supposed plot, none of this really sheds much light on her personality but more on the contrived and unsuccessful attempts at giving her one. At this point, all of my positive attention was now relegated to admiring her legs, skin and huge green eyes, and Justin Timberlake’s cute, um…torso? Watching the stars’ “cuteness”, which is probably the best way to describe their looks and overall appeal, became the thing to do for the next hour or so. I won’t bore you with more plot, because it’s pretty much exactly what you think it is, if you read the title.

I never thought that watching cute people having left-brain casual sex would bother me, but even that obligatory scene, which should be entertaining (exclaimed the film executives before making the film) was too unbelievable. Oh and note to the filmmakers: girls also have a hard time peeing when they are turned on. The real epic fail though is that the stars have no chemistry or heat between them. So let’s discuss that for a minute. I truly believe that when two stars have that chemistry in reality, it comes across on screen. The camera picks up little nuances in body language and facial expression. First order of business by filmmakers should be to try to find two stars that have that. Not just that they think each other is ‘cool beans’ but that they really ‘feel’ something between each other. It matters. If not, then their acting has to be so good that we believe it anyway. Not the case here. Though Justin Timberlake has had strong moments in movies like “The Social Network”, and Mila Kunis took a more substantial role when she played in “Black Swan”, they still need to have great directing and writing to be able to carry a whole movie and be interesting enough to hold our attention.

Even when more seasoned and substantial acting pedigree entered the movie in the form of Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, or Bryan Greenberg, the script gagged them. Harrelson had to play gay and all I can say about that is it was entirely unconvincing. Not for lack of trying, but I mean, c’mon, you’re Woody Harrelson! Richard Jenkins apparently thought he was in a better movie, because his performance was mismatched in tone from the rest, as he played Justin Timberlake’s father, who is slipping into Alzheimer’s. Jenna Elfman plays Timberlake’s sister who tries to impart some sort of heart and wisdom into her non-lines. But there’s nothing she can do but throw up her hands, which is the gesture she most resorts to. But I will say this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen her look better.

And sadly I did forget-almost-to mention the brilliant Patricia Clarkson, who is pretty solid and amazing in everything, but I cringe to say that in this film, I’d rather forget she was a part of it. Not because she was bad, but because the film around her was. Playing Kunis’ hippie and not very good mother, she’s doing the role she was always pigeonholed into in the past. She also had to say trite stuff like “Oh it’s like the 70s. We were all like that in the 70s. Man oh man-hold on while I roll this joint so I can say more stereotypical generic nonsense like that.” OK, that’s not exactly what she said, but something like it. I almost got the feeling she was thinking “Really? Do I have to say this? Can I have some wine first?”

I guess I should mention they used flash mobs in the movie. The effect wasn’t so grand as they hoped though. And it was odd watching Justin Timberlake act like he doesn’t know how to dance. You could tell he was just itching to. And also, we are shown a movie within a movie “starring” Rashida Jones and Jason Segel, where they mock the romantic comedy genre with giddy abandon. Not sure that came off as humorous as they hoped since the actual movie we were watching was going that direction.

Somewhere in my eye-glazed state, there actually was one amusing scene, revolving around Justin Timberlake and a helicopter.

The R Rating is notably at odds with the movie itself. It had far too much nudity and profanity than the tone and storyline called for. But then I can’t say what demographic or audience this movie was made for. I tend to give audiences more credit than these types of filmmakers do.

Directed by: Will Gluck
Release Date: June 22, 2011
Run Time: 109 Minutes
Country: USA
Rated: R
Distributor: Castle Rock Entertainment


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