Friends with benefits

Art & Culture

In that way that Hollywood has, two romantic comedies have been made in a short space of time, which tackle the same subject. In this case, the sub-genre might be best described as the fuck buddy movie. This is the better of the two.

It must be coincidence that the 2 actresses who appeared in Black Swan (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) are the women in both films – the other being the inferior and tedious No Strings Attached. Whereas poor Natalie had to make bambi eyes at Ashton Kutcher, Mila has the much more credible job of playing cheeky games with Justin Tmberlake, who is proving that it is possible to have a successful career as an embarassing pop star and still emerge as a good actor.

He is the art director head hunted by her for GQ magazine from LA. He moves to New York, and they become friendly. Both of have been recent dumpees, and the conversation turns one evening – as it does – to the idea of having sex without romantic entanglements. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, they’re under the sheets giving instructions about what they like, and what they don’t. But things can only head in one direction – this is a romantic comedy after all – and that’s where this film goes, for better and for worse.

My main criticism of the film is that it wants to have its cake and eat it. On the one hand, it pokes fun at the stereotypical romcoms they watch on TV with slushy endings and naff soundtracks, while at the same time, peppering the running time with nifty/nasty little indie pop tunes to keep things buzzing along. And of course there’s a great big slushy climax. Will Gluck’s previous film, Easy A, did somethign rather clever with the high school movie, providing intelligence, laughs, and a subversion of cliche that made it stand out from run of the mill films. FWB would like to be equally risky, but somewhere along the line, either the director or the studio lost its nerve, and reverted to cheesy type.

Having said which, there are plenty of pleasures to be had. Justin is as likeable a screen presence as I’ve seen in a long time, while Mila Kunis seems ready made for leading roles, possessing verve and sparkle. The costars include the ever-wonderful Patricia Clarkson as Mila’s unreliable mother, Woody Harrelson as the gay colleague of Justin, and Richard Jenkins as his Alzheimers-riddled dad. I like the fact that the couple’s sexual activity are given a degree of intimate detail as well as being played for laughs; you don’t usually get to see women letting a man know how she wants oral sex. I liked the two of them as a couple together, and even though I knew they’d wind up living happily ever after, I felt pleased when they did. So my main disappointment is the fact that it could have been better – sharper, edgier, shorter and more ruthless. But it isn’t.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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