Friends with Benefits is a kind of romantic comedy starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis with some very funny support from Woody Harrelson. Now, I say that it is “kind of” a romantic comedy because although it uses some of the tropes of a romantic comedy and quite a lot of the same plot mechanics, it also subverts the genre (sometimes explicitly in a form of meta commentary) and doesn’t want to achieve quite the same effect or resolution.
The film basically hinges on Justin Timberlake’s character moving from California to New York at the behest of Mila Kunis’ headhunter character (as in employment consultant, it is not that kind of film) and her being the only person he knows there. This leads them to becoming friends and, as they both have lousy experience with dating and romantic partners, “friends with benefits.” There does seem to be a genuine spark between the two leads and they make a believable couple (even if their supposed professions are a huge stretch to my mind) even when some of the events around them seem contrived by writers who have no experience of them in much the same way as the films they send up. I am not wholly sure if this is deliberate commentary or laziness.
Timberlake’s character, in particular, seems quite guarded and it is not until the final act of the film that you realise how private he is. Partially this is because he is removed from his own environment, whereas Kunis’ character is very much on home ground. There are some staples of the romantic comedy: siblings, blocking characters, life changing choices, wacky parents but also the welcome and hilarious addition of Harrelson’s predatory gay work colleague (seriously: the best bit of the film).
There are some moments of genuine tenderness, particularly between Timberlake and his family, but the film is basically about the “real” relationship of Kunis and Timberlake as opposed to the Hollywood ideal (displayed in a series of cameos by Jason Siegel who is not the only Forgetting Sarah Marshall alumni making a cameo) that the two send up as part of their courting ritual.
Which brings me to my one annoyance about the film: it uses flash mobs as plot devices repeatedly throughout the film: do the writers not know they are a good decade out of date with this?
Overall, I enjoyed the film far more than I thought I would and it is definitely one that is funny on a second viewing.