You know I have high standards for romantic comedies. Or rather, I want to, it’s just that so few actually meet them. Hollywood has pumped out one predictable, gag-tastic disappointment after another over the past several years and I’m loathe to admit that upon seeing the previews for each one, my sad, love-starved little hopes stirred and swelled with anticipation. At first introduction to the latest attempt to trump the iconic When Harry Met Sally…, it happened again. My expectations ambitiously rose. And this time, they were only half let down.
Friends With Benefits, like all romantic comedies, is predictable in its formulaic plot and often trite dialogue. It trips over (but quickly recovers from) several of the usual pitfalls. He’s commitment-phobic, jaded by his parents’ broken marriage and father’s illness; she’s emotionally scarred, so warped by her mother’s series of disastrous relationships and lack of a father that she clings to the notion of Prince Charming and true love, fairy tale-style. The movie opens with each getting dumped by their significant other and told they’re damaged goods. They meet, their friendship blossoms and the inevitable “just sex, no emotions” pact is made, sealed with right hand on iPad Bible app.
Issue no. 1: why does Hollywood continue to pretend that gals like Mila Kunis aren’t abnormally attractive? I like Kunis and I’d like to see her in more movies, but whatever character she plays should openly own the fact (yes, it’s a fact) that she is smoking hot. Stop making her pretend that she’s just an average girl with all of our average-girl insecurities. Try as you might, we won’t buy it.
The more serious issues I have are with the attempts at serious, heartfelt dialogue. Here are a few actual lines from the movie: “You’re great together.” “This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you.” “You’re perfect for each other.” “If you think that there’s even a chance that she could be it, you fix it.” Swear to god, those are the literal, word-for-word lines. I’m sure they’re lines (maybe with slight variations) from at least a dozen other romantic comedies of the past 20 years. Nothing original there. The lowest moment, in my opinion, was Justin Timberlake’s father opening up to him about “the one who got away” so as to prevent him from making the same mistake. Really? How many times have we seen that gem?
All that being said, FWB is entertaining and well worth a watch. It did not have the warm, glow worm effect on me that my most treasured romantic comedies have but it’s cute and very, very funny. The supporting characters, including the likes of Woody Harrelson and Jenna Elfman, are charismatic and give the two leads much needed depth. (Side note: I adore Woody Harrelson. Period. And why doesn’t Jenna Elfman get more, and better, roles? She is the embodiment of charm.) And the minute cameos by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone were super funny, if way too short. Timberlake and Kunis have great chemistry as friends and as lovers and seemed to have a ton of fun, making the movie fun to watch.
Which leads me to this flick’s real saving grace: the sharp, hilarious banter between not only the leading couple, but nearly all of its characters. It’s full of great quips, fast, clever one-liners and snarky pop culture references. I defy anyone who doesn’t literally laugh out loud at at least one line uttered in nearly every scene. Even the cheeseball, too-serious moments referenced above are quickly made up for with the sharp-tongued repartee that immediately follows. Also, there is LOADS of sex, complete with MK side-boob and JT’s rippling abs. And it isn’t the melodramatic, too-magical-for-reality sex that movies usually showcase, but sex involving awkward positioning, muscle cramps and “Wait! I have to go to the bathroom!” right in the middle. You know, like real life shit. When Jamie (Kunis) gives Dylan (Timberlake) lessons on his oral performance, I simultaneously laughed out loud and wanted to applaud the woman bold enough to actually say: “What are you trying to do – dig your way to China? You’re not a lizard.” Right on, chicka.