In the same week that a trailer for a reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise was released, a franchise that had its last outing in theaters a mere four years ago, a new movie arrived in theaters about two friends who decide to have casual sex. “Friends with Benefits,” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, was released last Friday only a few months after the release of “No String Attached,” which featured Kunis’s former co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Both the new “Spider-Man” franchise and “Friends” seem unnecessary but despite my doubts, “Friends” is a definite improvement over “Strings” and is well worth seeing.
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As the story begins, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) are being dumped by their respective partners. Dylan’s heart is crushed by his John Mayer-loving girlfriend Kayla (Emma Stone) while Jamie is discarded by her dopey boyfriend Quincy (Andy Sandberg). Dylan and Jamie eventually meet each other when Dylan flies to New York City for a job interview with GQ that head-hunter Jamie has set up. After Jamie shows him the pleasures of the Big Apple, Dylan accepts the job as Art Director.
Soon enough, Dylan and Jamie become close friends and start talking about relationships together. One night, they are watching a by-the-book romantic comedy and they start making fun of how unrealistic it is. The two make fun of the clichés and pop music montages that often plague romantic comedies today.
It’s here that the story reaches an interesting turning point. “Friends” decides to both laugh at and incorporate romantic clichés into its story. The screenwriters realize that musical moments often direct the viewers to feel a certain way but then go ahead and use music to set the story’s tone without a hint of irony. “Friends” is a smart enough romantic comedy to know how to use many of the rules of the genre effectively.
Eventually, Dylan and Jamie start sleeping together and their fun in bed together and as a couple brings this film to life. Kunis is impressive as a leading lady who charms with both ease and vitality. Timberlake is a decent leading man here, but this film is carried by Kunis.
Around the halfway mark, the story goes off-track as it suddenly veers from being a light comedy about “friends with benefits” to being a solemn drama. Other stories have changed tones before but the tone in “Friends” changes abruptly and may leave audiences wondering what happened to the fun and laughs that were so prevalent in the first half of this film. The dramatic scenes often feel desperate as if the filmmakers decided halfway through that making a simple comedy wouldn’t be enough for the audience.
It’s still disappointing to see romantic comedies focused on purely sexual relationships between two main characters but this one has enough laughs to make it enjoyable viewing. If you’re looking for an old-fashioned romantic comedy, this isn’t it, but if you’re looking to have a few laughs and good fun at the theater, “Friends” has its benefits.