Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Friends With Benefits

The buzz surrounding "Friends With Benefits" is that it is a better version of "No Strings Attached". Other than the obvious morally casual approach to making sex a sport, the films are not that similar. The most notable differences are the attention to the script and character development.

One of the problems I had with "No Strings Attached" was that the background story for Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman's characters were not remotely believable. There wasn't really an emotional connection that was made and ultimately I didn't care if they were happy in the end. That was resolved by the writing team of Will Gluck, Keith Merryman and David Newman by providing two separate backgrounds for Justin Timberlake (Dylan) and Mila Kunis (Jamie) that could almost be an individual movie in themselves. The emotionally unavailable Dylan is dealing with a father diagnosed with Alzheimer's and a mother that walked out on the family. The fairy tale dreaming Jamie is waiting for her Prince Charming much in the same way she is waiting for her distant mother to tell her who her father is.

The introduction to these characters is done through phone conversations with a clever reveal that leads to them breaking up with their current boyfriend/girlfriend. Battling the cliches of traditional romantic comedies can be difficult, but Dylan and Jamie do exactly that through a film they watch together that stars Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation). Additionally, the characters make reference to other films allowing for them to become even more relatable. The remainder of the story remains predictable and follows the formula that we all know. By keeping things simple the film works better than "No Strings Attached" by not forcing the ending, but rather letting Dylan and Jamie find their way back together as well as resolve some of their personal issues with their families.

A couple surprise performances come from Woody Harrelson who breaks stereotypes by being a gay sports editor, Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's free spirited mother, Jenna Elfman as Dylan's supportive sister, and Richard Jenkins as Dylan's father that provides some of the most heartfelt lines in the film. Portraying someone with Alzheimer's cannot be easy, but Richard Jenkins does it perfectly and gives the best advice to Dylan that with the disease he realizes that every day is precious and that you shouldn't have any regrets.

The bedroom scenes between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are respectfully done and provide a lot of humor to a mature audience. This film has more to offer than just what happens in the bedroom and for that reason receives 3 Quacks.

(screening date 7/6/11, release date 7/22/11, location Regal Ballston Common Stadium 12)

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