Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friends With Benefits (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Friends with Benefits

"Friends with Benefits" is a breezy festive and good-hearted comedy that had me laughing and my heart skipping with romantic apprehension too. And this is a rare thing, given the sheer number of romantic comedies that there have been. Some are silly, some are just plain raunchy (mostly featuring Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds) with bathroom jokes into infinity, but some are well acted and even heartfelt. 
"Friends with Benefits" is thankfully one of the good ones that doesn't belittle or dumb-down the audience.

From the start, the film has a rapid- fire quickness and a fresh look. The opening scene concerns two sets of young couples about to dissolve their relationships. The dialogue overlaps upon the two couples which offers a new Microsoft-era, multi-tasking feel to a theme that's as iconic as any Woody Allen classic.
 Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis)  are two cast aside loves left out for no good reason. Indeed although they see themselves as  "damaged" they seem more well adjusted than their lazy spiritless mates. Dylan, an advertising blogger, is offered an art directing job at GQ. Jamie is assigned to negotiate the contract. For some confounding reason Jamie steps over the luggage carousel a little too long. Why? Then it hits me. "Friends with Benefits" makes fun of the very genre that it is is in. We might know what's coming but it is so lighthearted and clever that we never feel taken.

The banter between Timberlake and Kunis is so quick with repartee that at first, it seemed like they were trying to outrun the latest broadband comedy network, quipping about texting and flashmobs but their chemistry together is infectious. Jamie is snippy, cynical and cavalier while Dylan is self deprecating and good natured. In their own way, they are a kind of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn (although Kunis looks more like Audrey Hepburn) pairing for the smartphone set. They try not to like each other but as soon as they resist, they prickle and pop.
With all of the technological and sexual quips, this could easily have been just another ultra-light comedy but Timberlake and Kunis keep the ridicule  well balanced with some of the tension that might occur in any intimacy  between two friends of opposite sex. The joke of the film is their restraint one minute and their utter abandon in the next. And when they settle in to chat (in scenes that seem to merge "Harry Met Sally" with "American Pie") there is always a perfectly placed nod to other films or settings. 

Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins both do good turns as the single parents of Jamie, and Dylan respectively. These performances may as first seem like cartoons but they sneak up on you with comic acceleration. The parents become more realistic as the film moves on.

The one false note is Dylan stricken with height phobia and reduced to tears. I didn't quite buy it. It was awkward and forced, melodramatic and not quite real. Extra baggage that the role did not need to remain interesting.

We care because of the chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake: a quirky spontaneity and big dark Audreyesque eyes matched with Justin's shy quips and dapper self effacing air. It's that simple.  

No, this isn't "April in the Apple Store" it's August at the Tropic and you can see "Friends with Benefits" alone or with a friend without any of the usual sentimental chick flick guilt. 

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