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Friends with Benefits
Genre Comedy
 
Review:

Friends with Benefits stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, two up-and-coming Hollywood starlets. Timberlake's musical career launched him into fame and he's made a strong transition into film with roles in David Fincher's critically acclaimed, The Social Network and other movies like Bad Teacher and In Time. Mila Kunis has had a similar trajectory, taking a role in That 70's Show and propelling herself into film acting with an equally impressive turn in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, with appearances in The Book of Eli and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The two are hot property, so it's quite amusing to find The Social Network/Black Swan pairing co-starring in Friends with Benefits. Yet, there's more... with this comedy romp following on from No Strings Attached, another recent movie dealing with sex-based relationships in today's jilted generation. Not only are the two films fighting for movie titles, they feature an ensemble of "incestuous" movie stars. Kunis played opposite Kutcher as a primary love interest in That 70's Show and alongside Natalie Portman in Black Swan. So there's more than sheer coincidence at play as these "socially-aware" comedy romance dramas resonate.

However, with these strange connections the two movies share a fundamental problem. Both No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits suffer from distancing. Their moral compasses treat sex as recreation, as special as eating out, something that most audience members may accept on a superficial level, but fail to green light on an emotional level. This inner conflict alienates an audience, who isn't blinded by lust and able to see into the crystal ball from the outside, preventing any real identification with the co-leads.

While the quickfire wit is quick and witty, it only manages to entertain as an echo. The script is smart, but the lines are delivered so rapidly that there's an equal-opposite effect to David Lynch's slowing down of dialogue. This glazes the emotional core of the primary relationship between Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) and loses some of the hold. While Timberlake and Kunis look good together and deliver charming performances, it's perceived to be going through the motions rather than investing in the somewhat predictable plot.

Will Gluck (Easy A) gets his stars to speed up delivery much like his previous film Fired Up, which adds to the density and intensity (the opening scene in The Social Network) - but takes away from the reality. To bring it back to reality the script employs some over-share moments, deploying awkward sex comments to provide an opportunity to laugh at inappropriate references shared between two people really trying to treat sex as a simple add-on to their friendship.

The witty back-and-forth slices the audience in half, emulating sitcoms like Arrested Development and Seinfeld. Then it dissects the audience once again with its blunt sexual interplay, making it very niche material for movie goers that enjoyed No Strings Attached and Love and Other Drugs. By now you've probably realised that Friends with Benefits is not for everyone.

Timberlake and Kunis are sweet together, there's a fun cheeky chemistry to the romp, reminiscent of Fired Up and the script is sharp like Easy A. Unfortunately, the electric banter almost warrants English subtitles, the sexual humour is heavy-handed and instead of sincerity, there's a slow-roasted sense of alienation on offer. It's a plot line that can only really go one way as a commercial entity, so there are no real surprises other than a few voyeuristic shock moments - slotting Friends with Benefits as a preferred choice alongside its 50/50 counterparts, No Strings Attached and Love and Other Drugs.

The bottom line: Brazen

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