Because I care, I want you to know: Friends With Benefits is so limp, so flaccid, that I walked out of the theater after 40 minutes. The promise of glorious AC couldn’t even keep me in the building. And it was marginally better than No Strings Attached!
The sort of tragic thing about the movie was the giant poster of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, situated behind Kunis’ bed. Kunis and Timberlake were jabbering, bantering, and it wanted to be screwball comedy but it was mostly just bad jokes, back and forth, forever. The lines, they felt like lines. Even though Kunis has charm and screwball timing - to a degree, mind you - Timberlake was just a big smug zero. When Patricia Clarkson walks in and spells out “L-O-M-B-A-R-D” for some reason (Carole Lombard shoutout, obvs), there’s actually a smidge of fizz between her, Timberlake, and Kunis, but then it went away again. Kunis actually had a little chemistry with Bryan Greenberg, who plays some doctor she dates, and it just made Timberlake’s suckiness all the more obvious. But really, Emma Stone screaming on the phone in a cameo, or even her glowering picture coming up on an iPhone, was funnier than anything here, as she is actually someone with some screwball DNA.
If screwball jokes are going to be funny, they kind of have to be coming from a place of wit, whether it’s wordplay, acute observations about characterization, whatever, anything, but these were just words. It made me think fondly of the Gilmore Girls (better jabber, better actors who could handle said jabber) and In the Loop (actually the best screwball comedy of the past whatever years… and it was about politics! What?). And the actual titillation of having sex with your impossibly good-looking friends wasn’t there at all - what I don’t understand about both of these movies is that they make sex seem so boring. Shouldn’t there be some fizzle? Some intellectual verve and chemistry? Something in the eyes? People talking about sex before they do it makes it seem like such a transaction. Something Pulp would’ve sang about on This Is Hardcore. Come on! I would buy it more if these characters have a hot sexy time and then sort of argue on the parameters.
I didn’t even get into the repeated flash mob jokes, the lame 90s references of Third Eye Blind and Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” and the fact that the film was muddy and ugly. The extent of the film’s ugliness was really pretty appalling - exterior shots of New York, made to make the city seem glorious and inviting, had digital noise and grain on the edges. Most of the acting two shots seemed to be in front of a green screen, with New York city scenes added afterwards. (Probably the case!) There was nothing seamless about it. A few lame jokes doesn’t make it ok. A glorious New York-set rom com is a lovely thing to aspire to!
At least I don’t have to see the preview for Crazy, Stupid Love anymore. I have it memorized by now. I kind of can’t buy Ryan Gosling as a boring metrosexual superstud, I have to admit. Timberlake, on the other hand…