Friday, July 22, 2011

entertainme: review "friends with benefits"

I have a friend who judges a film by whether or not she would enjoy having a beer with the lead characters. She told me this as we were walking into a screening of “Friends With Benefits” the new Justin Timberlake / Mila Kunis film. Interesting concept.

In a clever opening scene both Mila’s (Jamie) and Justin’s (Dylan) characters experience the whole “It’s-not-you-it’s me-well-it-is-kind-of-you” break up with their respective partners which sets up the meeting of these two quote emotionally damaged/unavailable but otherwise perfect, sexy, obviously meant for each other characters.

After a meet-cute in an airport as Jamie a corporate headhunter, picks up Dylan, an art director interviewing for GQ Magazine, it is only moments before these two start their easy banter (think conversational ping-pong i.e. “The Gilmore Girls”) and a friendship that lends itself easily to the whole benefits part. There are some funny scenes as Dylan and Jamie discover the whole sex without an emotional commitment

Director Will Gluck (“Easy A”) who co-wrote this film clearly knows how to make a movie that takes advantage of popular culture which this film is peppered with-- from flash mobs to John Mayer references, this film is like a time capsule dedicated to the summer of 2011.

Timberlake has developed strongly as a actor, gaining a huge fan base with his unexpectedly intense performance in “The Social Network” with Kunis most well known for her role last year in “Black Swan.” Both Justin and Mila are immensely likable actors on their own but put them together and they have this quality that reminds me of the old Cary Grant + Katherine Hepburn / Doris Day / Grace Kelly films where the chemistry of that bada- bing banter plus sexual undercurrent make for a film that is both entertaining and smart, not a feat always easily done in Hollywood.

Unlike some other rom-coms where one of the characters is either a whiny, difficult but adorable girl who needs the right guy to make her a better person or a guy who is a cold womanizing cad until he meets the one who changes him, it’s easy to like Jamie and Dylan. As they navigate the friends to friends with benefits to friends without benefits you want them to succeed as a couple, in some shape or form.

Patricia Clarkson shines as Jamie’s mom, a free spirit throw back to the 70’s. Scenes with the always wonderful Richard Jenkins as Dylan’s early Alzheimer’s father provide a depth to Dylan’s character in some of the film’s more tender moments.

Another highlight is the effervescent Woody Harrelson, as Dylan’s coworker and gay GQ sports editor who offers this piece of advice “You want to be happy? Find someone you love and don’t let them go.” Truer words have never been spoken.

So, does this film meet my friend’s requirement? Do you want to share a beer with Mila/Jamie and Justin/Dylan. How about you make that a keg.

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