Hmm. I get the strangest feeling I have been around these parts before. Is it just me, or has there been more that one movie recently about a couple of friends…with benefits…who agree to not get into a romantic relationship with each other? The two leads would then decide that the most problem-free solution for them is if they rely on each other for casual sex only…no strings attached…only to discover that it is simply impossible to put this idea into practice without falling in love…and other drugs? Déjà vu.
In case you cannot tell by the pauses in the above paragraph (or the dozens of other critic reviews on the Internet), I am hitting something right on the nose here. “Love And Other Drugs,” “No Strings Attached” and the most recent, “Friends With Benefits,” have an awful lot in common with each other. All of them, in addition to being the only ‘adult’ romantic comedies as of late, fundamentally have the same outlook on their romance story. Some scenes even mimic each other to a degree. But I do not care if it has already been done before. It all depends on the execution. “Love And Other Drugs” began good and ended average and “No Strings Attached” was mildly amusing but lacked focus.
Hot off of getting dumped by their respective love partners (played briefly by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone), Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) first meet each other at a New York baggage claim. Dylan works as the head art director of a popular website located in Los Angeles when Jamie, a NY job recruiter, offers him a big business opportunity: scoring a gig with GQ Magazine. A bit undecided on taking the offer, he makes a trip to the Big Apple to get a feel of what might go down.
He goes in for a job interview at the magazine’s headquarters and before you know it, Jamie is taking him for an exciting tour around the city in an effort to win him over. And after a showy flash mob spontaneously forms in the street, Dylan decides that this is the place for him. He will take the job and move over as soon as he can. But that’s not all. Later that night after watching some generic romcom together over a beer, the two share a mutual umbrage toward the way relationships often play out. One of them suggests the idea that they use sex to get over their emotional funk, and well, the rest is history.
The director Will Gluck has been in charge of two movies before this one, and two that I actually find to be very funny (“Fired Up” and “Easy A”). While those movies have a zippy, inane charm about them, “Friends With Benefits” has a similar union of taboo, R-rated comedy and prudent melodrama. While it sometimes jabs at the fact that love never turns out like the movies, it cannot help but represent a story that plays it too close to other (sometimes better) films in the genre.
Among the cast, Woody Harrelson plays a spiritedly gay work associate of Dylan’s who commutes around New York in a small boat and gives the infrequent relationship advice. Patricia Clarkson shows up as Jamie’s mother Lorna, and more or less plays the mother role just like she did in “Easy A” - often silly and inappropriate, but interminably supportive of her daughter’s choices. And then we have Richard Jenkins as Dylan’s poor father who suffers from the kind of Alzheimer’s that makes characters forget to put on a pair of pants.
I walked out of “Friends With Benefits” with most of the same feelings I had about “No Strings Attached.” Timberlake and Kunis are both capable performers (see “The Social Network” and “Black Swan”) and they have the occasional burst of romantic chemistry and/or comic timing, but I fear the script is not quite funny or charming enough to overcome the customary romcom traps. And I hate to be that guy, but the great leads could not carry me all the way through. I was not bored, per se, but I wish I could have had more to say about it.