fri 23/08/2019

Friends with Benefits | reviews, news & interviews

Friends with Benefits

Friends with Benefits

Justin Timberlake puts a fresh spin on the idea of the social network

Can't we just be...? Or not, in new Kunis/Timberlake romcomImage credits go here test

A time-tested formula gets tantalisingly tweaked in Friends with Benefits, in which Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis attempt to confine their relationship to the purely sexual without the ick factor of emotions getting in the way. Here's a Hollywood film confident enough to poke fun at Hollywood conventions - take that, Katherine Heigl! Kunis lets cry at one point - while following a not hugely dissimilar path. The difference is that this one benefits from actually being sparky and entertaining. Can you imagine that?

In fact, it's not hard to guess at the good will generated by the two leads, immensely likeable actors both who are buttressed by a supporting cast that look as if they are having a notably good time. (More on Woody Harrelson to come.) Kunis plays a New York headhunter, Jamie, who meets Timberlake's LA boy, Dylan, by - in Jamie's case, on (yes, really!) - a luggage carousel where she instinctively promises to change Dylan's life.

That, in turn, means luring a confirmed Angeleno eastward. The task might be easier if Dylan weren't so convinced that New York weren't ultra-violent; besides, he knows all he's ever wanted to know about the Rotten Apple from Seinfeld. Cue Jamie's eccentrically bespoke Manhattan tour, which includes a flash mob no less, en route to an inevitable shedding of clothes facilitated by the fact that the two are newly single - and not necessarily by choice.

It's part of the director Will Gluck's point that the pair are both, to a degree, damaged, no matter the degree of physical perfection they may have achieved: hey, a gym can only take you so far, right? And so Jamie and Dylan try sex without feelings as well as feelings without sex until... Well, let's preserve some element of surprise as to how the inevitable is actually achieved.

Kunis is sassy, Timberlake is cool, and together they click

Such departures from the norm as there are come not from the pre-ordained arc of a script credited to Gluck and co-writers Keith Merryman and David A Newman but to such disparate embellishments as Patricia Clarkson, once again in maternally whacked-out form (cf One Day), playing the sort of hyperactive mum sure to send a daughter screaming into the arms of pretty much anyone who happens to be nearby, and the aforementioned Harrelson (pictured below) as a sporty gay goofball who would seem to like boats rather more than he does boys.

woody2As is to be expected from anything aiming these days for the American mainstream, the film sends out mixed messages that include a completely ridiculous jibe at Barack Obama's ears - is that how our current cinema woos the Tea Party? - while making clear that Jamie may scream during sex but also has a Bible app on her phone: she's both good girl and bad, you see, at the same time. It's scant surprise that the action finds the duo at one point clambering around the celebrated Hollywood sign that remains so iconic a part of the American landscape, as if to remind us visually of the celluloid tradition from which Friends with Benefits springs.

But this is that increasingly rare studio confection one can imagine savvy New Yorkers enjoying, as well, not to mention kindred spirits elsewhere. Kunis is sassy, Timberlake is cool, and together they click. I'm not sure I want five sequels following their progress all the way to the rest home, but as a splash of Indian summer on celluloid, this will do just fine.

  • Friends with Benefits is on general release from Friday

Watch the trailer to Friends with Benefits

As a splash of Indian summer on celluloid, this will do just fine

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters