I was never a fan of Justin Timberlake as a musician – although that was probably more the genre than him specifically. But – what with his Busby Berkeley-ish number to The Killer’s “All these things that I’ve done” being the only interesting thing in the excruciating “Southland Tales” and then his awesomeness as Sean Parker in “The Social Network” – I now, seemingly a decade after everyone else, kind of see the point.
In “Friends With Benefits”, Timberlake plays Dylan, a graphic designer headhunted by Jamie (Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”) from LA to NYC for a job at GQ. They are both workaholics in the aftermath of bad breakups (she with Andy Samberg, “Saturday Night Live” and he with Emma Stone, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) and decide that they should be able to sleep together without emotional attachment. Everyone already knows where it’s going to end up, but Timberlake and Kunis sell it with good chemistry (but I think either of them would have good chemistry with a lamp post).
The thing I liked least about the film is how snidely meta it is. At one point, Jamie and Dylan watch a crappy romantic comedy. It is called “I love you, I love New York”, is set in LA masquerading not at all convincingly as New York and stars Jason Segel and Rashida Jones (both from “I Love You, Man”) hamming it up for all they’re worth. Dylan and Jamie slag off the movie – quite rightly so, it’s terrible – listing all the tropes that they despise from use of music to the climactic Grand Romantic Gesture at Grand Central Station. But then “Friends With Benefits” proceeds down the exact same path. It bugged me that co-writer and director Will Gluck (“Easy A”) was lowering expectations for the film – drawing parallels with crappy romantic comedies and making one slightly better – rather than setting out to make a film comparable to the decent ones.
The thing I like best about it – apart from bit parts from the ever awesome Patricia Clarkson (“Whatever Works”) as Jamie’s mum and Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) as Dylan’s dad – was that at no point did a macho friend of Dylan’s say of his just-sex arrangement “Dude, you’re living the dream”. I freaking hate that line.