MovieMantz Review: ‘Friends With Benefits’

‘Friends’ Benefits from Great Filmmaking

“Friends with Benefits”
Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis
Directed by Will Gluck

For the second time in just six months, moviegoers are faced with the prospect of seeing another raunchy R-rated comedy about two lovers who hook up for sex without the commitment. But for those who think they’ve already seen it all before in last January’s “No Strings Attached,” think again.

That’s because not only is “Friends with Benefits” the better of the two (by far), it’s also the best romantic comedy in years. Thanks to a well-written screenplay, confident direction and amazing chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, “Friends” fits the bill as a charming, funny, smart, vibrant, irresistible and very sexy cinematic experience.

Kunis plays Jamie, a New York-based headhunter, while Timberlake plays Dylan, an LA art director she recruits for a dream job at GQ. They’re obviously attracted to each other, but since neither of them is looking for a commitment, they go for the next best thing: friends with benefits. They start out having fun, but as their feelings grow, it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt.

In recent years, Justin Timberlake has been building a steady stream of strong performances in films like “Alpha Dog,” “Black Snake Moan” and “Edison,” but he was still primarily seen as a Grammy-winning, multi-platinum musician who dabbled in acting. That started to change last year with his excellent turn in “The Social Network,” but even that was more of a supporting role.

But “Friends with Benefits” should finally take Timberlake’s big screen career to the next level, as moviegoers are bound to see him as a strong actor who can hold his own in a major Hollywood production. He seems very much at ease playing Dylan, and he effortlessly shifts gears between being charming, funny, sexy and serious.

He also has great chemistry with the delightful Mila Kunis, whose performance is just as strong as Timberlake’s in every way. In addition to being a very attractive couple, they deliver their sharp dialogue in a manner that very much recalls the likes of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, only with raunchier dialogue.

But perhaps the true star of “Friends with Benefits” is Will Gluck. After directing last fall’s wonderful “Easy A,” Gluck returns as director and co-writer (with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman) with a movie that firmly establishes him as a major filmmaking voice. It’s fun and fast paced, but about halfway through, it takes a serious turn and becomes much deeper and more poignant.

The screenplay also allows the supporting characters to be fully realized, which is a testament to how well written it is. Patricia Clarkson is hilarious as Jamie’s irresponsible mother, while Richard Jenkins gives a moving turn as Dylan’s ailing father. Jenna Elfman is also strong as Dylan’s sister, but Woody Harrelson practically steals the movie as Dylan’s profanely flamboyant colleague at GQ.

In addition to being the best romantic comedy in years, it’s also the best R-rated comedy of the summer next to “Bridesmaids.” That’s because unlike movies like “The Hangover Part II,” “Bad Teacher” or “Horrible Bosses,” the raunchy jokes here are much more organic to the story, rather than just being a contrived and ill-fated attempt to go for some kind of shock value.

After “Friends with Benefits,” it will hopefully be quite some time before we see another comedy with a premise like this on the big screen. But hopefully the wait won’t be too long to see what’s in store next for Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and Will Gluck, as future movies will only benefit from their growing talent.

Verdict: SEE IT!

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