I think of all of the things I would consider myself (an underestimated athlete, occasionally decent word maker-upper, deceptively intriguing coffee maker…), a connoisseur of the modern romantic-comedy is probably not amongst them. I’ll admit to stopping upon a Matthew McConaughey flick from time to time on a basic cable channel while I fold my laundry, cut my nails, or other things that really make me not sound very masculine. In my defense, I only do those things whenever a rom-com is on and so I blame the estrogen emitting from my television.
The point is, I purposely don’t watch many romantic comedies and when I do I really don’t pay much attention. It isn’t because I inherently don’t like them, it’s because they unfortunately have a very, very strict formula that’s about as predictable as the average American Friday date night. “What do you wanna do? Dinner and a movie? Okay,” equates to “Hi. I like you but I don’t know it yet. I know it now. You made me cry and run away. You ran after me? I love you, kiss my face.”
So, when something is that easy to foresee and you’re not considerably taken by it naturally then it’s the people involved that make all the difference; just like Friday date night. If you enjoy who you’re spending time with then even the most monotonous experiences can seem fresh and fun. It’s those kinds of people that even if you’re going to the same restaurant you always go to they’ll find a way to set that visit apart from every other visit you’ve had there.
Thank God I decided to have dinner with Friends With Benefits and a cast of characters led by Dylan and Jamie (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) who start off as business acquaintances with Jamie trying to lure Dylan away from his life in L.A. to become the new Artistic Director for GQ magazine in New York. Jamie’s free-for-all demeanor and personable attitude mixed with Dylan’s intelligent wit and fun-loving sense of self comes together to form the kind of boy/girl relationship each gender wishes they could have more of.
If they happen to be insanely hot then so be it. It’s whatever.
For a good deal of the romantic comedies I HAVE seen I always find myself more entertained by the supporting cast. I don’t know why, but for some reason part of the formula seems to be to make the most interesting and fun people in the story the least exposed. They usually represent about ninety percent of the “comedy” part of the romantic comedy, yet they only partake in about forty percent of the plot. The rest, I guess, is romance. Yucky.
In Friends With Benefits though, the story’s most entertaining personalities are the two people who make up the romance. It’s as if someone plucked two fun people out of a bad romantic-comedy and put them together to be the leads in a good one. These are two characters I’m most used to seeing in smaller doses and clamoring for more. Or, maybe, I’m selling the mixture of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis with a witty script — that’s not so snappy that it’s obtrusive (a la some Diablo Cody dialogue), yet not so “real” to be dull or lifelike so that it can still feel like escapist fantasy — a bit short. The verbal back-and-forth abilities displayed between Timberlake and Kunis is amongst some of the most enjoyable experiences in recent rom-com lore. Hell, I’ll go ahead and say it…they’re just fun and they appear to be having a helluva time being just that. They’re given some memorable lines to say that are only going to be as memorable as their delivery allows – and they deliver. They play exceptionally well off one another and come across as precisely what the film would want you to believe; that they’re two people who would absolutely be best friends and, ultimately, make perfect sense as a romantic couple who don’t just “play tennis.” Don’t worry, the euphemism will make sense when you watch it. Actually, if you don’t understand that it means sex then you probably need to go play tennis.
Though, just because Timberlake and Kunis are actually the best part of the film that isn’t to say that the reliable supporting character joys are missing. On the contrary, Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson play their roles as if they were trying to resurrect a bad romantic comedy from unwatchability while Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins offer a delightful mixture of poignancy and lightheartedness as Dylan’s sister and father; a father going through a rough stage of Alzheimer’s that once introduced also brings a slight shift in tone temporarily from smiles and laughs to more serious overtones. Luckily, though, nearly each moment of potential sadness is accompanied by a quick one-liner or fluffy action, if nothing more than just a reminder that the filmmaker remembers that you’re watching a romantic comedy. The person I saw it with, a female who is much more adept in the language of Romcom likened the experience to sharp resuscitation. Just when you thought the film was losing its life the filmmaker would yell “CLEAR!” and shock the picture full of energy again; or, something like that. I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.
See…I told you I was a guy.
The Upside: Dazzling chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis on the comical and romantic fronts, memorable supporting characters and witty dialogue that doesn’t feel excessively unnatural
The Downside: It really doesn’t “start” until the two leads meet and once the shift occurs from casual sex to potential seriousness it loses some of its muster for intermittent periods
On the Side: Director Will Gluck was on this week’s Reject Radio. Listen to it and learn what Justin Timberlake’s butt looks like without the added ten pounds of camera weight. I really don’t know if they discuss Timberlake’s butt, but they say “sex” a lot.