Bruce Kauffman 10:30 a.m., Aug. 31
Review: Friends with Benefits
The perks are few and far between and no rewards to be gained by befriending Friends with Benefits. The only nugget of eternal wisdom to extract from the film is, as the lead in a romantic comedy, Justin Timberlake makes a fine boy-band singer.
"What? Me acting?
There’s no script, only a few intermittent chuckles, and enough quick cuts to hopefully plaster over the fact that when it comes to compelling visual storytelling, this isn’t a patch on The Jersey Shore.
Ocular-enhanced firecracker Mila Kunis plays a high-priced headhunter eager to cash in on her commission earned for placing New York-based designer Timberlake, in a high-profile job with GQ in L.A. Both recently fell victim to dumping-by-celebrity-cameo; Andy Samberg alienated Kunis’s affection, while Easy A star, Emma Stone, called it quits with JT.
A pair of perfect physical specimens, unable to maintain a committed relationship, decides to use each other for sex and wind up falling in love. I didn’t like it when they called it No Strings Attached.
What hurts most is that this was directed and co-written by (currently fallen) rising-star Will Gluck. With Fired Up!, a role-reversal comedy that at any moment could have fizzled, and Easy A, easily the funniest and most intelligent teen-angst comedy since Igby went down, Gluck seemed ready, willing, and capable of provoking laughter by subverting genre expectations.
We mock the things we are to be. Interspersed throughout the film are scenes from a sappy, cliché-ridden, faux HBO romantic comedy series that stars Jason Segal and Rashida Jones. Kunis and Samberg split just before attending a revival screening of Pretty Woman. If you are going to goof on formulaic romcoms and Disney’s rancid fairy tale about cutie-pie hookers in the era of AIDS, you had better damn well see to it that you present something fairly substantive and, dare I say, original to bolster your argument.
Watching Kunis and Timberlake writhe under strategically placed sheets or in canted closeup for a good ten minutes of the film’s running time is not the way to do it. Gluck was heretofore one of the few capable of making a PG-13 comedy feel deserving of a more adult, less box-office friendly, rating. When finally given the opportunity to let loose, Gluck barely earns his R.
With Bob Goulet and Leslie Nielsen permanently out of commission, and Wayne Newton and Larry King too old to bother, how must it feel for ginger-bird snowboarding legend Shaun White (as “Himself”) to be targeted for self-parody? Admittedly, the “does the collar match the cuffs” crack was amusing, but is the best you have to offer?
Taking cheap shots at a meaningless snow bunny is one thing; cracking wise about Scientology, another. Didn't they know that Timberlake's sister is being played by L. Ron Hubbard acolyte, Jenna Elfman?
By assigning every member of the supporting cast one specific trait with which to reap laughter, the film seldom rises above the level of Bridesmaids. Kunis’ mother (Patricia Clarkson, desperately trying to refashion her character from Easy A) is a horny hippie who refuses to reveal where her husband was born. As funny as he is, Woody Harrelson’s “strictly dickly” sports editor would have felt right at home working with Mary, Murray, and Mr. Grant at WJM in Minneapolis.
Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, and Justin Timberlake
Using Richard Jenkins as a cuddly, one-dimensional magnet for unwarranted pathos is downright hateful. Apparently, Gluck’s way of showing a softer side is by casting a brilliant character actor, known for accepting hit-and-run roles, as an Alzheimer’s patient who doesn’t like to wear pants.
Rating: One Star
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