Friends with Benefits is the second title within six months to centre around the hypothetical “can friends have casual sex” question following the rather unremarkable No Strings Attached staring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.
Unlike No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits plays on its self awareness of the rom-com genre to invite the audience into a playful inside joke. Passing references are made to Nicholas Sparks novels, Katherine Heigl’s lies about love and a faux rom-com staring Segel drives much of the narrative. The effect is to nearly, but not quite, convince you that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are just like you. They have relationship problems, family problems, they make fools of themselves and even make references to TV programmes and series you’re familiar with! (Passing references are made to tropes any audience member will be familiar with, Harry Potter, the Hudson river crash, Will and Grace)
And it’s the chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis which prevents this film from becoming just another rom-com. Timberlake gives a shrewd performance as Dylan, a web site editor from LA who is head hunted by Jamie (Kunis) to become the editor of GQ. Following a weekend of selling the sites and sounds of New York, Dylan predictably caves and accepts the job, leading to a friendship forming between him and the bolshie but privately vulnerable Jamie, whom Kunis is able to credibly pull off.
Following a late night viewing of the pseudo rom-com which is both the inspiration and the differentiating factor of Friends With Benefits, the pair decide to give no strings sex a go, leading to the sort of sex scenes which have always been excluded from the genre. There’s certainly no pans across the room resulting in the action slowly slipping from the mise en scene here. Yes it’s beautiful people having sex, and your eyes can’t help but wonder to the strategically placed sheets which hide two of the hottest properties in Hollywoods’ frames, but let’s be honest, this is half the reason why we’re here and the film certainly delivers on that front.
Rather unsurprisingly feelings between the two aren’t dropped at the foot of the bed, and the pair end up falling for each other in the sort of scene the film has satirised throughout. Whilst the script did somewhat let down the potential chemistry between these two, the performances were for me spot on and injected new life into what is an over worked genre and what the film lacked in plot, it certainly made up for in it’s zeitgeist references and comedy one liners.