Friends With Benefits is the second fuck-buddies-fall-in-love romcom in seven months. Has Hollywood lost faith in stories about finding that special someone somewhere over the rainbow, telling us to instead be content with whoever is in our own backyards? Have they figured out that many Americans are too broke or bound to their devalued houses to go anywhere?
Beats me. These movies are making money, though, so you can be sure that someone has a fuck-buddy TV series in the works, too. In any event, this one’s a hell of a lot better than the first, No Strings Attached, which failed as a result of filmmaking malfeasance.
In contrast, Friends With Benefits is smart and funny, and features an appealing pair of sweethearts in Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Kunis is Jamie, a high-powered NYC headhunter who lures designer Dylan (Timberlake) from California with the promise of a high-profile position at a fancy national magazine. Her professional courtship, of course, doubles as personal courtship; he takes the job and they become friends.
One evening when they’re hanging out, bemoaning their mutual romantic woes, Dylan takes a good look at Jamie’s ass. He is thus inspired to make a sex-without-love proposition. Jamie can’t refuse because she’s had a good look at him, too. This is charming because the leads have great chemistry and the script is damn good. Of course, this paradise of happy sex can’t last—not just because it’s unrealistic, but because it would probably piss off the audience.
The filmmakers take a number of hilarious shots at the genre they’re working in with a film-within-the-film romcom parody starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones. (Tellingly, it’s Jamie’s favorite movie.) The parody incorporates many of the genre’s sins, from unbelievable emotional situations to grotesquely fake settings to corny, “uplifting” music. But director Will Gluck can’t avoid one of the genre’s most annoying clichés in the “real” movie we’re watching: the Soulmate Fucking Scene™. This is the sex scene in every romcom when the lovebirds connect: The editing becomes stately, the director shoots each intertwined limb as if it were holy, and each simulated thrust is presented as if it were Cupid’s arrow finding its target. In short, the Soulmate Fucking Scene™ has nothing in common with actual fucking.
The scene, as if on cue, appears at a crucial moment in Jamie and Dylan’s relationship, when she accompanies him home to California for the July 4 holiday. The ambiguity is clever: Yes, he’s invited her to meet dad and sis, but it’s only a C-list holiday, and they have separate rooms. At first they’re not going to have sex. Then, after a bottle of wine, they do, and Gluck shoots it with the proper seriousness. (And then the lovers fight over the need for even more seriousness.)
Gluck is a bright fella. In the should’ve-sucked-but-didn’t Easy A, he used a convoluted, nonsensical plot as a means to dramatize the highs and lows of teenage emotion (and the cruelty of teenagers, as a tribe). He apparently felt that he needed to include the Soulmate Fucking Scene ™ here.
Too bad, because he’d already convinced us that these kids belong together.