Friends With Benefits: A Lesson in How to be Pretentious
Do any of you have that one friend, who will swear to his grave that he's not a nerd, but it turns out he plays D&D and World of Warcraft every weekend? Or a fat friend who'll deny he's fat by making fun of other fat people, as if he was skinny?
That's kind of like what watching "Friends with Benefits" felt like. For ninety minutes, the film makes a sometimes-convincing, sometimes-annoying case as to why it isn't a typical romantic comedy. At times, it even goes out of its way to satirize romantic comedies before it. They actually filmed fake scenes for a fake, over-the-top, purposely cliché romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, which the characters in the movie can watch and make fun of.
But after this hour and a half which you'll likely never get back, Friends With Benefits is exactly what it's trying to make fun of. It's the nerd that denies going to D&D every weekend. It's the fat guy who sucks in his gut all the time. It's the hipster who leaves his scarf and non-prescription glasses at home when he goes to a party.
To be honest, the movie itself isn't that terrible. The guise of the self-hating romantic comedy is relatively well hidden by charming performances by Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, and the underused Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, and Richard Jenkins. But beyond that, it's really hard to defend a film that's so fake and so pretentious.
The film, just like every romantic comedy before it, forces you to feel bad for people who don't deserve an ounce of pity. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two beautiful people with amazing, high-paying jobs and the ability to coerce their friends in having unadulterated sex with "No Strings Attacked" (see what I did there?), but you're supposed to feel bad for them because they have zany families and are emotionally damaged. It goes to lengths to introduce satirized and unrealistic characters that have no place in the real world, like a gay sports editor who uses words like "ri-dick-ulous" and anyone played by Jenna Elfman as a front for the sheer ri "dick" ulousness of the main plot points.
And last, and certainly worst, it ends exactly how you would expect it. Guy uses ludicrous means to recreate an earlier stupid plot point to get girl, who hated him for most of the third act of the film, in this case, a flash mob playing "Closing Time" by Semisonic -- who Justin Timberlake charmingly thinks is Third Eye Blind for most of the film.
If that's not enough, the film tries to use Alzheimer's disease as a tool to make you feel bad for the characters. Halfway through the second act, the movie just takes a completely random and somewhat inappropriate turn towards the serious, when they introduce Academy Award nominated Richard Jenkins' character, who suffers from the disease. Another Academy Award nominated actress, Patricia Clarkson, also makes the most of ridiculous and angering sex-crazed character -- Kunis' character's mother.
I would have been okay with this film if it didn't try so hard to sell you on the fact that it wasn't a typical romantic comedy, when, in fact, it was completely typical of a romantic comedy. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are charming enough to more or less hide the weaknesses in the script -- especially the nearly unbearable, fast-talking, West-Wing-Wannabe dialogue which is more cringe-worthy than cunning and witty -- and the supporting cast, while underused, is strong enough to back them up. But it pisses me off that the makers and distributors of this film plain outright lie about what it is, likely because "No Strings Attached" freaked them out a few months ago.
Director Will Gluck, who impressed me with "Easy A" and has worked on some decent shows before that, loses all credibility he had acquired from me before this film. In fact, FWB makes me so angry that it actually makes me like Easy A less, which, as it turns out, does the same thing FWB does, switching romantic comedies with bad 80s teen movies. It's as if he's out to misrepresent himself in every bad movie genre. The plot and script, of course, do him no service, but he's just as equally to blame for this mess as anyone else.
It's as if he saw the script, admitted it was pure shit, but was too deep in it to either drop the project or ask for a re-write, and just tried to cover it with lies. It's as if Larry David lost all his comedic talent and directed the film.
I don't really care that it's predictable. I don't care that it's even bad, frankly. What really bothers me is that they try to pass it off for something it's not, using what should be talented and charming actors and a ton of lies within the plot to pass it off as something different. Shit like this is driving Hollywood into the gutter. Easy, relatively cheap, interchangeable films that outright lie to moviegoers and make no effort to be charming or original.
For that, and plenty more reasons that I'm sure I didn't mention, "Friends With Benefits" receives a 4 out of 10. Stay away from this one, films.