Friends with Benefits is culturally up-to-date, it’s reference-y, it has two attractive adults engaging in unconventional romantic behaviors. It’s also a fairly large-budget romantic comedy, and generally the former and latter don’t meld together into a solid film with a satisfying conclusion. Friends with Benefits manages to balance some challenging discourse with a conclusion that never deviates too far from the defined romantic comedy format. In short, this works, even if it shouldn’t.
Friends with Benefits was directed by Easy A mastermind Will Gluck, but there isn’t much similarity between the two films past the pop culture references. Instead of a maturing high school teen faced with some difficult choices, we have Dylan (Justin Timberlake), a magazine editor lured away from a cushy Los Angeles job for the art director position at GQ in New York. Jamie (Mila Kunis), a head hunter, did the luring. Naturally, Dylan knows no one in the city, and naturally, Jamie is happy to befriend him. What follows are nights of watching crappy films and drinking until passing out…and then nights of sex, which eventually get in the way.
It doesn’t at first. Having a partner around who is totally fulfilling in bed, but who doesn’t require you to be emotionally available, seems like it has the potential to be an ideal situation. However, by its third act, Friends with Benefits is trying to impart the idea that people who delve into casual sex with the same person for long enough will eventually want something deeper. This would absolutely hold true for a faction of people, but it doesn’t necessarily sway with Dylan and Jamie, who are set up as ironic, self-reflecting adults in the first two acts. Dylan and Jamie absolutely prefer their no-strings-attached relationship to one based on caring and substantial effort. That isn’t meant to be a judgment on Dylan and Jamie’s idea of a partner, but it should be a judgment of the quality of the conflict written into the film.
Films need conflict. If we wanted to watch an hour and a half of two grown-ups finding ways to make it work in the bedroom, we could just watch late-night HBO. Unfortunately, mucking up the conflict can make or break a film, and changing the personalities of the only two important characters in a movie in order to provide conflict can be a huge deal breaker. Crazily enough, Will Gluck manages to sashay from act two to three with only a few disbelieving groans. He does this by re-introducing our main characters as emotionally detached through two problem parents. If this seems too ridiculous to work, it shouldn’t, but somehow the film rallies nonetheless.
Most of Friends with Benefits truly tries to be in the moment. The music is up to date, and the scenery and props all make us believe the movie is really happening in live time. If you haven’t totally grasped how hip Friends with Benefits is, there are so many cameos in this movie it puts celebrity sighting tours to shame. Andy Samberg and Emma Stone show up in the first scene. Shaun White has his own plotline. Jason Segel and Rashida Jones play in a movie within the movie. Even Masi Oka from Heroes steals an airplane scene. There may be more apps than cameos. There is so much app awareness in the flick I feel ashamed I don’t own a smart phone. Plus, there are multiple flash mobs. As in, more than one.
When Friends with Benefits gives in to the spectacle, it’s easy enough to be in the moment with our main characters and enjoy what we are being fed on screen. The ideas in the film may be more popular than truly formula-shattering, but the conclusion is satisfying enough, even if it doesn’t totally make sense. At the very least, it lends a little hope to those of us who are ironic, helpless romantics.
The pop-up trivia track takes a while to load. This track is not as in-your-face as VH1’s similarly formatted music videos, and you can watch the entire film with the track on without it being too annoying. I prefer this to commentary. According to the pop-up trivia, Easy A also has a similar feature. So, if you own a Will Gluck movie, check it out.
Commentary with director Will Gluck, Mila Kunis, and Timberlake follows, which can be pretty interesting, if you are the type of person who digs commentary. Deleted scenes come next. Deleted scenes are generally either terrible or awesome and deleted for time. However, Friends with Benefits’ deleted scenes are just awkward. There’s a long stream of jokes that almost work, but don’t. A set of outtakes follows, showing Timberlake dancing around or Kunis making this strange noise she seems to like to use to fill space when she fucks up.
The next extra is a segment on some of the memorable scenes from the film, including the Hollywood sign, the flash mob in Grand Central Station, and the jet ski scene. They rented out Grand Central Station for three hours after it closed and shot the flash mob, which is pretty cool. If the info on the flash mob in the first bit isn’t enough, there’s a whole separate segment giving details on both of the movie’s flash mob scenes.
Overall, the features on the disc are all worth a watch (excepting maybe the outtakes track), but what takes it over-the-top is the pop-up trivia track. Give it a chance, if only for a few minutes.