Saturday, July 23, 2011
Friends with Benefits
To all romantic comedy filmmakers: Take note, this is how you do it.
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis play yuppies who are frustrated with the traditional arc of dating relationships. They begin well and end badly. So why can't they just be friends who sleep together? Sound like a familiar premise? It should since it was featured in a popular episode of 'Seinfeld' and there was just a feature film about it a few months ago called 'No Strings Attached' starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. That one was actually pretty good. And this one is even better. It's fast paced, funny, sexy, shot beautifully in New York and L.A., and with a wall-to-wall soundtrack of upbeat pop that keep the energy high.
Miraculously, Justin Timberlake has managed to do what many pop musicians before him have tried and failed: Act. And if you don't believe me, see 'The Social Network'. And Mila Kunis really brings the right amount of funny, spunk, and sex appeal. For less of the former and more of the latter, check out 'Black Swan', and for the gold standard of modern comedies revisit 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'.
And the supporting cast is just great, including Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, and Patricia Clarkson, with a few more great cameos along the way. Harrelson has been one to watch over the last few years, with really great performances in 'Transsiberian', 'Management', 'The Messenger', 'Defendor', 'Zombieland' and '2012'. And the same goes for Jenkins in 'The Visitor', 'Burn After Reading', 'HappyThankYouMorePlease', 'Eat Pray Love', 'Let Me In', and 'Hall Pass'. Clarkson tends to play the same role, as an oversexed mom with no filter, but it works for her.
So, is it perfect? Unfortunately no. I always have issues suspending my disbelief for attractive twenty-somethings who don't seem to ever work but nevertheless are uber-successful in their enviably sexy careers and live in multi million dollar homes in the most desirable locations. Shall I coin it the 'Friends' paradox? And the end crosses over into predictableland. But it's all good. You still leave the theater feeling pretty darn great and glad you came. The last time I was this pleasantly surprised by a rom-com was 'Going the Distance' with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. There's still hope for this genre.