STARRING: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, MILA KUNIS, NOLAN GOULD, WOODY HARRELSON, PATRICIA CLARKSON, RICHARD JENKINS, ANDY SAMBERG with JASON SEGEL, RASHIDA JONES and EMMA STONE
The most engrossing aspect of Will Gluck’s ‘Friends with Benefits’, a boring self-advertisement of an overwrought product, I felt, were the sex scenes. Let me tell you why. Mila Kunis as Jamie, before she engages in intercourse (and a whole lot of other things) with Dylan (Justin Timberlake), tells him she has sensitive nipples. He, in turn, warns her of a similar situation on his chin. In the scenes that follow, we get to see his weak spot, but never hers. I was eagle-eyed about it. Not a trace. I felt cheated. It felt like such an ‘entertainer’ thing to do, you know? You hype a feature on a product that’s barely saleable otherwise (relating ‘Mila Kunis’ and ‘acting’), you make people wait for it even if only to counter-check or call for a contract-void, but then you never give it to them. The mystery is strenuous. For all you know, they might have used a body-double. I think they actually did. The girl in the long-range topless shot is not Kunis, but her voice distracts. Filmmakers these days are so full of tricks up places least expected. Like the one that Dylan seems particularly fond of.
What I said above is not an effort at undermining a well-packaged film that’s actually doing pretty well with critics and other audiences alike. It’s genuinely the only thing that I got to appreciate in the movie. And I actually called it a ‘movie’. That’s strange. I usually stick to ‘films’ – ‘Cinema’ for the rarer kind. This is one that chased cars in a guise of self-importance. I just sat down and counted them as they passed. One. Two. Three. Clichés. Pointy references for the heck of them. Supposed intelligence that’s but an abuse of ‘stupid’. Manipulation. Pretentiousness; it never stood for the stuff it preached. I mean the premise and the movie as the end product that plays in theatres and cineplexes and drive-ins and what not, didn’t go together. It’s like a bad lie that’s better untold.
I’m not going to discuss the plot outline of something that even a ten year old would get these days. It’s like what Roger Ebert once said about self-help books in his review of ‘He’s just not that into you’, as well as what Sam Elliott said about ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ in this film called ‘Did you hear about the Morgans?’ It’s that you don’t have to read the book to know what it’s about. Which means everything comes down to the other things – the surprise elements. Like in a sports film, where it’s about what happens off of the field than on it. The X-factors, so called.
So yeah, I thought this ‘movie’ had none whatsoever. I’ve never looked up to the abilities of either Mila Kunis or Justin Timberlake. They’ve been good in smaller roles, previously. Timberlake was alright in ‘Alpha Dog’ and as Sean Parker in ‘the Social Network’. Mila Kunis as Rachel Jansen in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ is a role I’d ascribe sensibility to. What didn’t make sense was the move to give them both a wider berth where there’s ten times the chance to blow their covers. Emma Stone (whose role in this film is sheer suicide) made this transition to game-changer from ‘good new find’ (‘Superbad’ to ‘Easy A’). One can give that credit to Seth Rogen (‘the 40-year-old Virgin’ to ‘Knocked Up’) or even Jonah Hill (‘Knocked Up’ to ‘Superbad’). Never to Kunis. Never to Timberlake.
What’s even more of a bother is to see how many good actors have been wasted at the wasteful expense of no-brainer eye-candy. Patricia Clarkson. Richard Jenkins (who plays someone with movie-Alzheimer's). Woody Harrelson. I might add Emma Stone to this list, but the girl is on a downtrend. Still, it’s demeaning to be assigned to play a gawky John Mayer fan. Sucks to say you like ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ as opposed to something like ‘Gravity’ or the ‘Bold as Love’ cover. It’s like discussing Cohen and saying you like ‘Hallelujah’ the most. And that too because Jeff Buckley’s covered it.
I just plain-hated the movie, if that’s not evident by now. Maybe because it’s a John Mayer put-down by Timberlake who can’t spell music even on ‘Hollywood’ letters. Or maybe it’s because I think this film should never have been made. Not because ‘No Strings Attached’ got there first. It’s not even about that. And that’s what I figured from whatever little I paid attention to.