Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star in Friends with Benefits (2011), Will Gluck’s romantic comedy which explores whether ‘no strings attached’ sex is possible between friends. Aspiring to be a rom-com with a difference, Easy A (2010) director Gluck dissects romantic clichés and attempts to construct a film where the couple avoids the usual Hollywood slush.
LA-based Dylan Harper (Timberlake) is convinced by New York headhunter Jamie Rellis (Kunis) to take a new job at GQ magazine in New York. Having both been recently dumped by their partners, the two become close friends. Realising that they both miss sex but don’t want the emotional commitment that accompanies a relationship, they become the titular ‘friends with benefits’, yet inevitably begin to fall for one another.
Whilst Timberlake and Kunis make an endearing coupling, their quick-talking banter is not enough to carry the film. Parental issues and family visits have been shoehorned in to create some depth to the characters and to pad out the film, but ultimately these are dry bolt-ons that do little to really provide any comedic moments or drive Friends with Benefits towards fresh territory.
Woody Harrelson also features as Harper’s gay sports editing co-worker and provides the most likeable character in the film. Yet however entertaining Harrelson’s scenes are, the film gets dangerously close to exploiting his sexuality to lazily provide the quirky rom-com side-kick. A cameo appearance from snowboarder Shaun White is ridiculously gratuitous, and nothing more than an extension of the overt product placement seen throughout.
Amusingly, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones appear as a clichéd couple falling in love in a corny rom-com being watched by Kunis and Timberlake. Despite their best efforts to avoids clichés and stereotypes, Friends with Benefits concludes that these ring true for a reason, and it is also disappointing to note that this principle has also been applied to the gender-based stereotypes of women wanting love and men being unable to commit.
Segel’s rom-com parody and Harrelson’s turn are the only two reasons to watch Friends with Benefits. With all romantic comedies the ending will always be inevitable, and unfortunately this film doesn’t escape the same tired old formula.