July 24, 2011 by Vinnie Leduc
As more and more TV spots for Friends With Benefits came out in the past few weeks, it seemed less and less comical. What’s worse, the novelty of a film about rhymes-with-Gluck buddies has already partially worn off, thanks to audiences having been subjected to slop with the exact same premise earlier this year in the mediocre No Strings Attached (why do I even give Ashton Kutcher movies a chance?… oh, yeah, because I’m a whore).
Following in the footsteps of his previous films, Fired Up and Easy A (both of which also looked dreadful in previews and commercials), director Will Gluck has delivered a surprisingly humorous comedy, albeit not quite as good as the Emma Stone high school tale.
Friends With Benefits features Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in their first major starring roles. I previously wondered in my Bad Teacher review if Timberlake could actually be funny in a movie for once, much less carry one. Well, Friends With Benefits marks a milestone for him because he was satisfyingly and thoroughly in sync (har, har) with his co-star’s veteran banter and Gluck’s rapid dialogue cuts. Complementing Timberlake finely, Mila Kunis exhibited more chemistry with the former pop superstar than her Black Swanmate Natalie Portman did with Ashton Kutcher.
Reinforced with nice pacing and some hilarious cameos (I’m not going to spoil them here), Friends With Benefits is also buttressed by an excellent supporting cast. This includes rollicking turns from Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson, but it additionally features Richard Jenkins in a heartfelt subplot that I totally did not expect.
After taking jabs at the romantic comedy genre throughout the first half of the movie, Friends With Benefits can’t help but stumble into the very pitfalls and predictability that it blasts. Its in-movie parody of today’s by-the-book romcoms could have been much better (aside for the after-credits stinger), and it ironically (or perhaps, expectedly) falls into the same traps we all roll our eyes at. Despite these missteps, Friends still benefits from a great cast, script, and tempo. Friends With Benefits gets 3 out of 5 stars or B- or Good.