FILM REVIEW: Friends with Benefits (15)

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Will Gluck’s romantic comedy wants to have its cake and eat it.

For the opening hour, Friends With Benefits rages against the cheesy tropes of Hollywood romantic comedies, decrying the use of soppy music to manipulate an audience’s emotions or the last-minute declarations of love in iconic locations that result in a Happy Ever After.

The three screenwriters even have their spunky heroine take one despairing look at a poster for the 2009 film The Ugly Truth on the streets of Manhattan and scream: “Shut up Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar.”

So far, so refreshing.

Then in a staggering volte-face, Gluck’s film embraces every one of those same conventions and contrivances to hopefully bring together its two perfectly-matched protagonists for a saccharine finale.

It’s difficult to know whether we are witnessing an act of staggering arrogance or stupidity on the part of the writers, force-feeding us the same narrative candy-floss we have been told, not 30 minutes earlier, is ridiculous.

Friends With Benefits almost gets away with the double standards because Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are such an attractive pairing.

They spend a good deal of the film naked in bed together and look extremely comfortable in each other’s arms so while the film’s methods might be questionable, we’re not averse to love triumphing over cliche.

Corporate headhunter Jamie (Kunis) woos talented website director Dylan (Timberlake) to New York with a view to securing his employment at GQ magazine.

She shows him around the city and quickly wins him over.

Since they both have wounded hearts, Jamie and Dylan agree that it would be perfectly acceptable to enjoy no-strings-attached sex without any possibility of them falling for each other like the sappy Hollywood romantic comedies they both loathe.

“No relationship, no emotions, just sex,” stipulates Jamie.

While Dylan’s sexually voracious gay work colleague Tommy (Woody Harrelson) and Jamie’s hippy mother Lorna (Patricia Clarkson) foresee trouble on the horizon, the two professionals continue with their agreement, blind to the consequences of their couplings.

Meanwhile, Dylan and his sister (Jenna Elfman) contend with the deteriorating health of their father (Richard Jenkins).

Friends With Benefits bears obvious similarities to the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher comedy No Strings Attached from earlier this year.

The two films peddle the myth that you can divorce sex and emotions, and in both cases, carnal desires kindle far deeper emotions for the bed-hopping protagonists.

Timberlake and Kunis are ably supported by Harrelson in scene-stealing form and the resplendent Clarkson, who stumbles upon her daughter in flagrante and coos, “Ooh, it’s like the ‘70s in here!”

The subplot about Jenkins’s patriarch succumbing to Alzheimer’s is lightly addressed, providing a modicum of substance beneath all of the fluffy wrapping.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10

Released: September 9 (UK & Ireland), 109mins