In 2010 director Will Gluck made the hilarious teen comedy Easy A, Mila Kunis broke out with psycho-thriller Black Swan, and Justin Timberlake showed real acting skill in The Social Network. Half a year later all three converge on Friends with Benefits, the second film this year (after No Strings Attached) to tell the story of friends who embark on a sexual relationship, only to discover it leads to emotional complications. Unfortunately this mingling of talented people has not produced anything of any worth. The idea of “friends with benefits” is hardly rocket science, yet Gluck and his three co-writers seem intent on being as dim-witted as possible.
Set in the lucrative world of blogging and magazine publishing – so you know it’s a fantasy right from the get go – are Kunis’ Jamie and Timberlake’s Dylan. He has recently moved into a plush apartment in New York City upon accepting her offer of a job at GQ. These young, sexy people (who have all the latest techno-gadgets in close-up, of course) start up a sexual relationship that involves a lot of flat vulgarity of the swearing kind and yet are remarkably shy when it comes to skin. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were attending toga parties every time they hopped into the sack with the amount of sheets they improbably wrap around themselves!
Of course, things get tricky when she joins him for Thanksgiving in his home town of Los Angeles, but you’ll know this already if you’ve seen any so-called romantic comedy in the last 100 years. There’s a scene early on that openly mocks the ridiculous clichés of rom-coms and yet Friends with Benefits somehow adheres to them in every soul-crushing way.
So many questions plague me long after the end credits: How does he run a blog of six million monthly hits and yet has never heard of a flash mob? How come she says she didn’t have time to shave her legs and yet she clearly has smooth, sexy pins? Or what about the bizarre, repulsive gay character (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland)? Oh and then there’s the thinking behind that pesky Alzheimer’s subplot that reduces the horrible disease to a “lol old people can be kooky sometimes but then they make me sad because they’re sick and stuff”. If only my own grandmother with dementia had been able to make such wacky jokes and wax philosophical about her illness as Richard Jenkins gets to here. Offensive doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Friends with Benefits is an abominable beast of a film. Amongst 2011’s other raunchy comedies it lacks the pathos of Bridesmaids or a go-for-broke central performance like Bad Teacher. It’s a flaccid, rotten corpse of a film that I presume was written years ago when the plot was considered fresh on an episode of Seinfeld.
Friends with Benefits is released on 18 August
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Nolan Gould, Andy Samberg and Emma Stone
Images all provided by Sonypicturespublicityau