Friday, June 17, 2011

Friends With Benefits (2011)

Tawdry, one-note, and cheesetastic to the point of inducing heart congestion, this rom-com is a remake of No Strings Attached...meaning it's yet another movie about two "emotionally unavailable" young professionals, one a prospective editor for GQ, the other a corporate headhunter, who decide to maintain a purely sexual, romance-free relationship. The two wildly successful, beautiful, and, mostly, well-behaved yuppies are played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, which should already clue you in to the standards of this movie. Have you ever seen either of them in public appearances? Then you are already familiar with their characters in the film, save for some arbitrary quirks for each party (nearly dyslexic math skills and a juvenile tendency to trespass simply for a "cool view"). The real con of the film is that the two leads, contrary to the title, are NOT REALLY FRIENDS. They meet about 5 minutes into the movie, and there is not very much time passed (maybe a couple of weeks) before they start doing bedroom gymnastics, with friend-exclusive comforts like Justin's mid-coital Semisonic renditions and Mila's lack of body image issues, because hey, if he's just my friend what do I care if he sees me naked (I'd say Mila's problems are more that she sounds remarkably like Meg Griffin, but that's just me)? They have an unproven relationship as platonic friends, so there is absolutely no tension as to whether these two young, fit studs are going to segue their immediate chemistry into a relationship. But a tentative, molasses-slow romance isn't what you're there to see, is it?

Too bad the laughs are barely there, the romance, corny and contrived, and the chemistry between the two leads amounts to nothing more than two hot-at-the-moment stars trying to maintain their stage personas, as well as their sex appeal. There are sex scenes, but they are over-the-top and played solely for laughs (there is nudity, but only of the rear end variety and, in Kunis' case, probably a stand-in). The dialogue that attempts to sound like hip, contemporary young people talking could've very well just been written by your average 20-something professional with its complete lack of subtext, subtlety, and originality (instead of the writers giving the girl a flamboyantly gay best friend, it's Timberlake who bonds with the homosexual who says things like "I never take the ferry...unless it's to a dinner and a movie!"). The only sparks the film achieves is due to its supporting cast, which includes Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Patricia Clarkson, and Woody Harrelson as the aformentioned "gay buddy" (who, to be fair, scores the biggest laughs in the film). While it is painful to watch such talented people walk on and recite arbitrary, unremarkable dialogue and exposition, in tandem with the walk-ons by Jason Segal, Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, and others, they provide the only moments of humor or energy to be found in this lifeless endeavor (Segal and Jones' hyper-romanticized film-within-a-film is clumsy and obvious, but they make it somewhat work). The other attempts at bridging the gap between broad, female-centric behavioral humor and its half-assed post-modern meta-awareness of its rom-com trappings fail miserably, and the two leads flounder around trying to cut vulnerable, identifiable figures out of flat, unrealistically perfect, and painfully stupid characters.

Skip It, save for women who want to have an estrogen-fest with a friend (please don't drag your poor male date to this unless he asks, in which case I hope he's trying to leverage the "casual sex" angle of the film into something a little more practical), as well as those who absolutely need to see these two cavorting in their skivvies for a good amount of screentime.

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