dir: Will Gluck
Two attractive people. A fast-talking banal screenplay. The very barest of mocking derision aimed at romantic comedies within the text and the subtext. What could go wrong?
Nothing, nothing at all.
I find it very hard to buy Justin Timberlake as anything or anyone else apart from Justin Timberlake. It’s hard for me to buy him playing a character, any character. It doesn’t adversely impact on one’s potential enjoyment of this flick, I guess, if enjoyment is what you’re hoping for from a flick with Justin Timberlake in it.
It’s an effervescent trifle, a virtually forgettable flick forgotten as it is being watched, of such an incredible level of shallowness that it barely registers within human let alone goldfish memory consciousness.
I guess that’s not a bad thing. It’s not like they’re trying to teach us anything of great importance, like that tolerance is nice, and that racism is bad, or something similarly controversial. It’s just something people, presumably youngish people, could take someone to on a date, presumably to convince that someone, being a female, to have sex with you, being a male, afterwards.
What, alcohol’s not good enough for you? You really need to endure an hour and a half of Timberlake’s adolescent looks and Mila Kunis’s dentist’s drill of a voice in order to get some? Maybe that will convince the other person of your commitment to Sparkle Motion or to loving lovingness long enough for them to let their guard and panties down.
You could see Friends With Benefits as the latest salvo in the eternal battle of the sexes as it’s been represented on the big screen since long before Spencer Tracy was battling it out with Katherine Hepburn. Yes, they were fucking sinfully every chance they got off screen, everyone knew. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table though, apart from endless shots of people using smart phones and gadgeting all over the place integrated pointlessly into the story.
The male of the dyad, being Timberlake, repeats a mantra throughout the flick: that sex is just sex. He is meant to be expressing the fervent wish, the desperate hope of men throughout the ages and across the world, that if only people, being women, could just approach sex in a completely emotionless way, everything would be infinitely better.
If they could, then men wouldn’t have to linger too long after blowing their loads; there'd be none of this bullshit of cuddling afterwards, or staying the night, or saying goodbye in the morning, and women wouldn’t give them such grief for being so selfish and callous. They’d enjoy and approach sex in the same manner, taking pleasure solely and automatically in the act without bringing any of the other agendas into it, and without requiring any of the emotional bullshit baggage.
To whit: they wish women would give it up blindly on request and then not bother them afterwards as they try to get another beer and clock some time on their console of choice.
In other words it’s the perfect world of free market sexual transactions, of pluses without minuses, and with no obstacles or impediments to Percy’s Progress, ‘Percy’ being every man’s primary pants located pilot.
It’s not exactly a new argument, and the fact that it’s a self-serving argument isn’t lost on anyone, least of all women. For a brief period of time, however, people seem to buy it, and buy the frilly illusion that it’s possible to have sport sex with someone who you like but don’t want to be emotionally attached to beyond the level. That is, until the bullshit piles up too high to ignore.
The painfully common trope that follows this set of clichés is that, once two people have sex too many times, then naturally the female thinks they have a relationship which is just more than sexual.
On cue, then the guy asserts: “NO! WE AGREED IT WAS JUST SEX!” But, see, you don’t get a romance flick without the guy, or the girl, realising what Their Heart Truly Desires as the music swells, and the audience alternates between the feelings of uplift and nausea.
I’m not sure how ‘modern’ this take on ‘relationships’ is, because I’m sure there were cavemen without clubs, fairly low down in the pecking order who were basically begging women to have sex with them, possibly with a Woody Allen-esque whine to their Neanderthalic grunting. Plenty of guys and plenty of women have had sex with each other with differing levels of emotional interest, resulting in wonderfully ecstatic relationships, but also a lot of other points on the emotional spectrum: deep abiding love, mild like, brimming contempt, outright disinterest, and raw bloody murder.
The notion that attractive people like these two should be bound to each other through obligation and formality is ridiculous. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis should be sharing themselves with everyone that wants them, and not just in their dreams. They should be giving it out to every one that they can. It’s the only way Timberlake will ever make up for being in a boy band, and Kunis owes us all for years and years of that terrible That 70s Show.
What they can’t convince us of is that a self-centred high achieving arsehole who’s also implied to be gay continuously throughout the flick, and a screeching harridan could ever by happy together as a couple at film’s end. But of course that’s what they want us to believe as an audience. We, we can't survive without our illusions.
If they had/have chemistry together, it’s that they can deliver the (early) snappy dialogue at the beginning of the film in a breezy and likable manner. They are most likeable when her character is trying to convince his character to move to New York. It’s also funny watching their rendering of New York as a metropolis of wonder and unbelievably murderous rudeness. My favourite moment has a cabbie screaming at Timberlake’s character to get his own bags out of the car, before abjuring him to ‘go fuck a dick’.
Ah, New York, New York.
The emotional resonance, backstory filling, why we should give a crap bits are terrible. She has a slut mother (ably played by Patricia Clarkson), he has a demented father (ably played by Richard Jenkins), so she’s always overreaching emotionally, and he distrusts and sportfucks women because his mother abandoned his father.
Boo fucking hoo, Mister LoveSexxy.
A few easy quick fixes, a few drippy words spoken, a happy embrace, and a lifetime’s worth of problems evaporate like a drying wet patch on a hot night. And there’s our happy fucking ending.
Nah, no-one looks for meaning or philosophy in these moments or from such a flick. They just want a bit of fluff and fun, swiftly forgotten, momentarily appreciated, like the five second orgasm, the cookie and the end of a cigarette. And that’s very tamely what Friends With Benefits predictably delivers, leaving no cliché unturned in its pursuit of romantic banality and a finish line thousands of other flicks have stumbled across for a meaningless result.
6 times plenty of women have moderately diverting sex with men they can barely tolerate without the word ‘love’ once crossing their minds out of 10
“Yeah, and then there’s that stupid music telling the audience how it’s supposed to be feeling.” – yeah, don’t you just hate that? – Friends With Benefits.