Friends With Benefits (2011)

When is a romcom that thinks it’s not a romcom really just a romcom? Uh, when it’s Friends With Benefits. A glossy, super-soundtracked puff of candy floss, Friends With Benefits wants to be more than just another generic romantic comedy (the film’s press notes continually and demonstrably use the word “pointed”), but in the end it’s nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

That’s despite some snappy chemistry between leads Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. He’s Dylan, a high-flying Los Angeles art director. She’s Jamie, a New York recruiter. When Dylan’s head-hunted by Jamie and lands a job in the Big Apple, the two bemoan their inability to commit to relationships. The solution? Have strings-free sex without the messy feelings. Who are they trying to fool?

If the concept sounds familiar, it’s because a similar premise was cooked up for this year’s woeful Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher vehicle No Strings Attached. With its edgier leads and Easy A’s Will Gluck in the director’s chair, FWB already has a head start on the competition, and for a while it skates along nicely. Snarky and sarky, FWB opens by confidently lampooning romcom tropes (“Damn you Katherine Heigl!” Kunis screams at one point) while establishing likably eccentric characters.

It’s not long, though, before FWB loses its swagger. While promising a realistic romance, it can’t escape those clutching romcom clichés – picture perfect locations, boring, bed sheet-swamped sex scenes and sympathy-straining family plots mean it’s sterile and boringly predictable. Thank God for Woody Harrelsen, whose straight-talking gay co-worker frequently pops in to save us from the sop with a well-timed crack or a sentiment-free nugget of wacky wisdom. In the end, Friends With Benefits may think it’s better than most romantic comedies, but it isn’t fooling anyone. 2/5

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