Friends With Benefits basically follows the story of pals Jamie (Mila Kunis) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake), as they experiment with a casual sexual relationship. If the premise sounds familiar, it may well be because director Will Gluck has managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist. Either that, or you’ve already seen No Strings Attached, which explores an identical set-up between Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Having seen both films (all in the name of dedicated research, obviously), it’s clear that a funny script can do wonders: Friends With Benefits is far and away the better film. Furthermore, Kunis (who I’d quite like to be) and Timberlake have the necessary chemistry that Portman and Kutcher sorely lacked.
Of course, the whole thing is frequently absurd – but no one’s pretending that this is Academy Award winning stuff. Both characters have implausibly wonderful jobs: Jamie headhunts Dylan for a job as Art Director at the New York office of GQ; a position that also comes with a huge luxury apartment. Dylan then busily fiddles around on his smartphone to come up with cutting-edge viral marketing campaigns (and to organise a flash mob: how very 2011). The pair also appear to have an obsessive relationship with their mobiles: we’re constantly treated to displays of technology as they quip and banter with each other through virtual means. This became a bit distracting – at one stage I began to wonder if the whole thing was an one long advert. In fact, I still think it might be.
Phones aside, Gluck is to be commended for managing to make the audience care about – rather than want to kill – these two sickeningly good-looking, successful characters. He also jazzes things up by saddling both with some emotional baggage in the form of tricky family backgrounds. Furthermore, there are some genuinely amusing set pieces (one involving a John Mayer mega-fan and another a Hollywood sign – I’ll keep these mysterious, as there’s not a great deal of dramatic tension to be found in the film itself). Friends with Benefits is funny and enjoyable, if not particularly original or ambitious. It’s certainly heads and shoulders above other more lacklustre offerings in the same vein (namely, No Strings Attached, but I’m beginning to sound as if I’m waging some bizarre vendetta). All in all you could doa lot worse on a rainy afternoon.