Movie Review: Friends with Benefits

By Stephen Rebello

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis generate easy, unforced chemistry in this comedy.

Director: Will Gluck Rating: R Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Andy Samberg

Here’s a quick guide for anyone overcome with déjà vu while seeing Friends with Benefits and confusing it with a movie released earlier this year, No Strings Attached. Both are about an attractive young single woman and man who fool themselves into believing that they can have sex together without getting emotionally involved. Okay, so we can’t actually help you figure out the differences between the two flicks. But the new movie stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in the roles previously played by Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman—but Timberlake and Kunis actually generate easy, unforced, highly watchable screen chemistry. Big difference right there.

Kunis, enjoying a well-deserved run for herself on the big screen, plays a headhunter who calls herself “emotionally damaged” by a recent disastrous relationship and lures successful, “emotionally unavailable” L.A. art director Timberlake to a swank N.Y. magazine job. Timberlake is new to the Big Apple and basically friendless, so the two start hanging out. Sparks fly, verbal and otherwise, and soon they’re meeting each other’s families. The upshot is big fun, thanks to the two stars and to a party pack of performances from scene-stealers Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’s spacey, hippy-dippy mother, Jenna Elfman as Timberlake’s older sister and Woody Harrelson, who bats it out of the park as Timberlake’s sports writer coworker.

The snappy, enjoyable movie is directed and co-written (with Keith Merryman and David Newman) by the savvy Will Gluck (Easy A) who has clearly studied those sophisticated, rapid-fire Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracey romantic comedy classics and has directed his two lead actors accordingly. They’re not exactly up to the task (and Kunis is doing most of the heavy lifting) but at least they’re game. The moviemakers take satiric aim at the cliches of contemporary romantic comedies while pretty much indulging in every one of them. It’s the R-rated language, sex scenes and Timberlake’s nudity that are supposed to throw us off the scent. But why quibble? The actors are a kick, the humor is on target and the whole thing moves like a cool summer breeze. Friends with Benefits is so much fun that it should make you forget that you’ve seen it (and, maybe, done it) all before.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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