Monday, September 24, 2012

Friends with Benefits

Directed by Will Gluck.
2011. Rated R, 109 minutes.
Jenna Elfman
Bryan Greenberg
Shaun White

Boy meets girl. Again. This time, both have just been dumped by other people. Boy is hotshot art director Dylan Harper (Timberlake). He’s just been hired to fulfill that role for GQ magazine. He got the job because he was recruited away from his own highly successful blog by Girl, Jamie Rellis (Kunis). Boy moves from LA to NY for his new gig and becomes platonic besties with Girl. The two confide in each other that they miss sex, but not relationships. Of course, they do the only rational thing and hop into bed together after laying a few ground rules. Pardon the pun. As you might expect, feelings neither wanted ensues.

Surprisingly to me, the first half of Friends with Benefits is a joy to watch. This is due, in large part, to the fact it looks like our two leads are having so much fun they can barely contain themselves. After all, they’re two attractive people who get to do a lot of rolling around naked together. It also helps that this portion of the picture is dedicated to ridiculing all we know romantic comedies to be. Our two lovebirds in denial say all the things we say about such movies. This gives it a wonderfully self-aware vibe.

The second half undermines the first by becoming precisely what the earlier parts rail against. It tries to maintain its edge by blatantly acknowledging that it has devolved into the same grandiose moments of romantic gesture as just about every other flick in the genre. Despite its embracing of its own descent into mediocrity, it still feels like a letdown since up to about the midway point it seems like a well done spoof that’s going to introduce a twist on the norm. Instead, the overall effect is that the movie says “Other movies do ‘this’ so we will, too.”

As rom-coms go, this is a little above average. The expected story arcs are fully intact. Before any of it actually happens, we know where jealousy, misunderstanding, break up and make up are all going to come in. For good measure, there’s Richard Jenkins in the ‘wise crazy person who let his true love get away’ role to impart sage advice at the pivotal moment. He has some interesting moments and is typically excellent but pales in comparison to the hysterical performance by Woody Harrelson as Tommy, Dylan’s too openly gay buddy. You’ll just have to see it to understand what I mean by “too openly”. Even though the only real reason for his character’s existence is that he owns a boat, many of the movie’s funniest moments are his. He, and the thing we come to realize as the film progresses elevates it above its contemporaries: at least this one knows it’s lame.

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