Starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson
Natalie Portman made a pact with Ashton Kutcher early on in the year to have sex, as long as there were No String's Attached. Strangely, her Black Swan co-star finds herself in a similar predicament, only with Justin Timberlake. Here, we have a film truly based in the 21st century; not only does Friends with Benefits feature enough technical product placement to put You’ve Got Mail to shame, but asks the question: can two pals who decide to ‘play tennis’ between the sheets keep their emotions at bay? After impressing in The Social Network, Timberlake - surprisingly capable in a lead role and not afraid to make a fool of himself - teams up with sassy sweetheart Kunis to play Dylan and Jamie, the mates who put this to the test. Comedy ensues through the inevitably awkward circumstances the characters find themselves in and the comments by supporting players (Dylan tells his GQ workbuddy that Jamie is different to the other girls, to which he asks 'Does she have a penis where most girls have a vagina...? Then she's no different!'). The sex scenes themselves that seem more grounded in reality through the unflattering way in which they are filmed – a tough feat for a scene involving two desirable figures - are wittily played with help from the inclusion of previously mentioned aspects in the screenplay. One word: sneeze.
Will Gluck’s previous feature Easy A, which made a star out of Emma Stone (who politely cameos at the start as a John Mayer superfan), approached the rom-com in a fresh manner, the influence of 80s Brat Pack films apparent. The same is attempted in Friends with Benefits with postmodernist montage bluff sequences and self-referencing applied, as well as homages of the obvious: Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally... . But, as the film reaches its final third, Timberlake and Kunis seemingly intentionally re-enact the cliches that the screenplay explicitly mocks earlier on in the film. Destructive? No. Cheeky? Most certainly, but the film does suffer for it; what once was credible becomes a cop out. Moreover, an unnecessary sub-plot involving Dylan's father (an always welcome Richrd Jenkins) is introduced and dealt with shoddily. There's plenty of fun to be had though, with laughs through the relatable insightful script and offbeat support (Woody Harrelson hilariously cast against type as a gay workmate of Dylan's at GQ), not to mention Kunis' assured dialogue delivery; her timing is spot on, and it seems she is finally blossoming into the superstar she deserves to be.
For the least awkward viewing experience, avoid watching with friends of the opposite sex.