When I first heard the premise for the rom-com, which stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, I was sure it was going to be a rehashing of the classic When Harry Met Sally. In many ways, it is. Both films ask, "Can straight members of different sexes really be friends without letting sex get in the way?" But rather than leave it at simply poking fun at allegedly stark gender differences, FWB takes a slightly different side of things and addresses the issue of "men vs. women in comedy, and sex," full on. Director Will Gluck, who's also responsible for Emma Stone's breakthrough movie, Easy A, asserts that the gender divide is fading away.
The chemistry between the two main actors is spot-on, as there's a clear give and take, equity, and respect that's shared between Kunis and Timberlake. Both characters know exactly what they want, and the feminist within rejoices at the sight and sound of Kunis telling her partner exactly how she likes it.
Overall, then, this latest release of Gluck's carries on with the director's propensity to promote female sexuality, and in doing so, he presents a new phase in comedy: the Guy-Girl Buddy Flick. When either character wants to talk sex, he/she doesn't have to turn to a token same-sex BFF, they just turn to each other and, primarily in the sex scenes, hilarity ensues. In fact, only Timberlake's Dylan has such a friend, and he only turns to him -- a hilarious Woody Harrelson who's unabashedly gay -- when he needs help with his personal intimacy issues.
The codependency between the leads is promising, and throughout all two hours I was pleased to see just how well Gluck once again managed to bring a new depth to guy-girl relationships, as well as let the peripheral comic geniuses of Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, and even Emma Stone and Andy Samberg (who only really appear in the first several minutes, but they're several minutes well spent) shine through. Friends With Benefits is a first look at comedy gender justice.
But is all this pro-feminist dazzle enough to make the movie a winner? If you're looking for an unpredictable plotline and shock-value, don't expect to find it here; intermingled with the hopeful elements of gender equality is a true romance flick, where clichés exist up the wazoo, and the central characters really aren't the primary focus of the comedy. As said before, Clarkson and Harrelson are scene stealers, while Kunis and Timberlake -- outside of the bedroom, at least -- struggle to hold their own and draw laughs.
What's more, for everything Gluck tried to accomplish with the narrative -- with an interesting look at the future of comedy -- he can't seem to make up his mind: is the movie a commentary, or is it just an all-out comedy? As a result, the film's pace and overall comedy feel disjointed at times, and the laughs are few and far between.
All in all, then, I appreciate the work Friends With Benefits tries to accomplish, though I just wish it could've been even funnier, and pushed the envelope a little more.