[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00594HEQU][/pullquote] Will Gluck made his name as a writer for various American TV shows, but in 2009 he switched his focus when he directed Fired Up. The film’s dialogue and sparkling interplay proved a moderate success and gave him enough Hollywood kudos to make Easy A, a huge hit. Part of the appeal was Gluck’s ability to take a tired genre (the teen movie) and breathe new life into it by referencing previous works from the genre and subverting them. Following in this vein is his latest romantic comedy, Friends with Benefits.
Dylan (Justin Timberlake), an art editor for a popular website, is convinced to move from Los Angeles to New York by headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) to work for GQ magazine. While in New York, he strikes up a friendship with Jamie and the two decide to introduce ‘non-emotional’ sex to their relationship while avoiding all the romantic comedy cliches they both hate so much.
Friends with Benefits focuses almost entirely on Timberlake and Kunis, with side characters used merely to push the plot forward but, thanks to the electric chemistry between the pair, this works wonderfully. The dialogue is witty, sharp and quick-fire, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments throughout. The supporting cast, while a touch two-dimensional, bring a lot to the film, especially Dylan’s gay sports editor Tommy (Woody Harrelson) and Dylan’s Alzheimer-plagued father, Mr. Harper (Richard Jenkins). There are even little nods to Easy A, not to mention very funny cameos for Emma Stone and Patricia Clarkson.
Gluck seems happy to reference films within his films, and this sort of meta self-awareness gives his work a certain edge and also allows him to play with film conventions and let his audience know he’s aware of the obvious genre pitfalls, like the romantic comedy (starring Jason Segel) that the characters watch together in the film. For the first half of Friends with Benefits, his characters acerbically tear apart old cliches like the over-use of sweeping shots of the city they’re in, or the music that tells you how to feel in any given scene. Unfortunately, the second half falls into these traps and drags a fair bit in the ’emotional’ parts. It’s almost like he wanted to make a fully post-modern take on the rom-com, but got scared and switched back to the tired cliches.
That’s not to take too much away from Friends with Benefits though, because the general level of comedy is very high and the plot is interesting enough. For the film to work its leads needed to be on top form and both are, with Kunis especially proving that her role in Black Swan wasn’t a fluke.