Posted on Friday, August 12, 2011 at 06:00 PM
I’m one of those people who, when I see an integral film that somehow changes me, will turn to my wife and say “I need to own this movie.” In so doing I’m saying that the experience has changed me in some way and that in order to reflect this I need to buy it. After all, it’s not what you know, or what you do that defines you, right? It’s what you have that defines you.
Okay, while you mull on that for a bit I’ll talk about Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Can a movie be more than the sum of its parts? The parts being the characters, the dialogue and the plot in this case. I’d throw in special effects, but as this is a romantic comedy that’s not usually a big part of the film. In this case Friends with Benefits is a better movie than the sum of its parts. You would think that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis would not bring much “star power” to a film. While they both have good on-screen personality that their names aren’t big draws to the theatre. That may very well be changing. After Mila Kunis supported Natalie Portman in the Academy Award winning Black Swan and Justin Timberlake supported Jesse Eisenberg in the Academy Award winning The Social Network (both in 2010) these two may very well be up and coming A-list actors. So it isn’t surprising that the movie reviews say wonderful things about the chemistry and performances of these two main stars, even though most of the reviews are surprised that this is the case.
The performances in Friends with Benefits outshines the quality of the plot and makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable.
But the root of a strong performance lays in strong dialogue and in this regard Friends with Benefits takes the cake. The timing is spot-on, fast-paced and even pithy under the direction of Will Gluck. (who also directed Easy A). There is a scene involving an iPad bible app that particularly takes the cake. So if you have capable actors responding well to strong dialogue all that remains is the plot.
Well, this is a Romantic Comedy. Knowing that there are certain plot related conditions that have to be met, we are mostly going to be interested in the journey to and from each of those pivotal moments. For those not in the know they are as follows: Boy meets girl (also known as the “meet cute”), boy loses girl (otherwise known as “conflict”), Boy gets girl back (otherwise known as the conclusion or climax) – end. There are variants on this process, but a romantic comedy will always have those three elements therein. The main point of contestation between reviews out there is that Friends with Benefits has a strange twist that, for some reviewers, didn’t work. The typical conventions of a Romantic Comedy involve heavy emotional emphasis through music, the use of public spaces for emotionally tense scenes (there’s some good psychological study work on this that says that if we see a particularly emotionally charged scene that takes place privately in a film we are more inclined to be stressed by the scene, but if the movie presents that scene in a public space with lots of extras bearing witness to the events then we are less stressed by the scene because we’re witnessing it with others – despite those other individuals residing within the movie itself… anyway), there are several other conventions that this film takes a shot at. What annoys the other reviewers is that the film employs those exact same conventions as it merrily moves along.
Okay, so we have a rather typical plot filled with interesting dialogue performed by capable actors who seem to genuinely fill the space and create chemistry together. Yet still other reviewers had issue with the movie. For them it was that the same movie had already been released this year (No Strings Attached). Personally I can’t fault a movie for being similar to another movie so recently released – it’s not as though the production companies knew about the competition before investing in them. That’s neither here nor there though – because almost all of the reviewers agree, Friends with Benefits is a better movie than No Strings Attached.
Which leads me back to my initial point. Friends with Benefits doesn’t have a really high review rating. (Most RomComs don’t get a really favorable scoring) But all of the pieces, which are well reviewed and quite good seem to add up to LESS than the whole according to more review sites. That shouldn’t be the case, should it? For me – this was a perfect match.
It might have helped that I saw the film on my 7th Anniversary with my beautiful wife and was in good spirits when I sat down. I got up afterwards and I specifically said “That was nice, but I don’t want to own it.”
Well, maybe I’d buy like 90% of it. That’s about how good it was.