Director Will Gluck’s Friends With Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as two hanky-panky buddy protags, is a frothy old-skool-with-a-modern-twist rom-com that taps into a deep vein of Hollywood romance-making spanning Preston Sturges’s screwball heart slappers from the 1940s to Nora Ephron’s fatty-fried coms of the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s.
Two recently dumped middle/upper class NY Americans, Dylan (Timerlake) and Jamie (Kunis), decide they want s-x without complications and learn, of course, that s-x comes with complications. Dylan is an online entrepreneur head hunted and recruited by GQ Magazine; Jamie is the recruiter who gets a bonus from his addition to the payroll.
Gluck and co-screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A Newman generate just the right amount of self-referential playfulness. Dylan and Jamie watch a corny movie and observe that things don’t work out that way in real life. They talk about how the director’s use of music is supposed to manipulate our emotions. They talk about how fabulous endings are the habitat of fiction. Gluck acknowledges the genre’s “rules” then carefully adheres to them, with a twist or two.
Flashes of in-vogue modernity scatter across the running time: there’s iPhone-esque finger flicking across the credits, shots of websites and new age publishing and two key scenes involving flash mobs.
Timerlake and Kunis are a winning combination who generate the required sizzle, but, crucially, they also generate a strong sense of camaraderie — emphasising the “friends” part of the title. There is lots of bitchy to-and-fro and a familiar riff on s-x is never just s-x. The dialogue could be bouncier, the plot a little sharper, but if you buy into the central relationship, Friends With Benefits plays unexpectedly well.
The details: Friends With Benefits is in cinemas nationally.