Friends with Benefits * * *

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Director: Will Gluck

Writers: Keith Merryman & David A. Newman and Will Gluck

Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman  

Running Length: 109 minutes

Synopsis: Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) think it's going to be easy to add the simple act of sex to their friendship, despite what Hollywood romantic comedies would have them believe. They soon discover however that getting physical really does always lead to complications.

Review: I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a necessary precursor to reviews of any romantic comedy – it’s never the plot and always the chemistry. Yes, we’ve all seen movies like Friends with Benefits a thousand times before, and the ground it treads is so well worn that there are really zero surprises to be had (in fact, just earlier this year we had the similarly-themed No Strings Attached). However, Friends with Benefits has one thing in its favour: there’s excellent chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, which makes this a relatively enjoyable romantic comedy to sit through.

Since the storyline makes zero deviations from the norm, apart from the slightly cheekier aspect of the couple being sexual partners before true feelings develop, there’s really no point speaking about the plot. Friends with Benefits’ strength lies in its actors – sparks fly between Mila and Justin, but the supporting cast is what really pushes the film one level higher. Patricia Clarkson is perfectly cast as the bohemian, devil-may-care mother of Jamie, and Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Dylan’s father, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Even Woody Harrelson is highly memorable as the flamboyant gay sports editor of GQ magazine, whose transportation to work is more than a little unusual. And then there's the excellent snippets of a "romantic comedy" that plays out as a film within a film, with great cameos of Jason Segel and Rashida Jones.

Having directed Easy A before this, director Will Gluck seems to be developing a modus operandi – taking a familiar genre and coaxing great performances out from the cast members to differentiate the film from the run-of-the-mill – and so far it’s been quite successful. Many small scenes in Friends with Benefits take jabs at the conventions in romantic comedies, and it does seem a little “meta” that the film itself ticks off so many checkboxes in that same list, but as long as the film works as a whole, this isn’t really an issue at all. Friends with Benefits is a pleasant romp through familiar scenery that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and a good enough hour-plus diversion to warrant a trip to the cinemas.

P.S. If you’re so inclined, there’s a very short (but largely inconsequential) coda at the end of the credits that you could stay for.

Rating: *** (out of four stars)

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