Mini-Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

Starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Nolan Gould

Directed by Will Gluck

Expectations: None, I just hope it’s not too painful.


Just to keep everyone guessing, I have to review a straight-up mainstream movie like this once in a while. Most of the time I have such an indifferent response to these films that I can’t muster the mental power needed to write a full review. Friends With Benefits is pretty much in the same category, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It’s better than No Strings Attached, let’s just get that out of the way. No Ashton Kutcher is a huge plus, but it’s really the R Rating that helps a lot here, allowing the characters freedom to curse as they naturally would and making the sex scenes adequately steamy.

Both Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do a great job with the material they are given, giving us a believable on-screen relationship with a minimum of groan-worthy scenes. The supporting cast is also filled out with lots of good actors such as Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman and Patricia Clarkson (playing virtually the same character she played in Easy A). While I enjoyed Harrelson as the cock-obsessed gay man, I can’t help but wonder how intelligent gay men reacted to this character. They deserve better than to have broad stereotypes reinforced. And if we’re going down that rabbit hole, where were the people of color in this film? I think almost every one in the movie is white.

As a piece of art, it fails miserably. Director Will Gluck creates a textbook mainstream film with more ugly close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots than I care to think back on. I’m sure the paycheck was great though. He previously made Easy A, another poorly-shot mainstream comedy and one that I just couldn’t understand the hype for. It’s hard for me to watch these ugly, lazy films without losing my shit, but the charm of both Kunis and Timberlake surprisingly went a long way.

As a comedy, it fails less so, but it still contains far too little laughs. I especially enjoyed the fake romantic comedy they watch throughout the film, which features some incredibly funny lines within it, perfectly lampooning the tired genre. What’s unfortunate is that to make a romantic comedy, the story kind of has to follow that general path that they all follow and Friends With Benefits is no different. Oh, and the Barnes and Noble joke was my biggest laugh of the movie. Perhaps not the most clever line in the world, but seriously, buying full prices books really is dumb shit.

Friends With Benefits does a lot wrong, but it does just enough right to make it not as painful as it could have been. It’s way too fuckin’ long though, coming in at almost two hours. I’d only recommend it if you like the leads enough to see them get jiggy wit it.

Quick Takes: Hobo With A Shotgun, The Night Before, No Strings Attached

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Starring Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Robb Wells, Nick Bateman, Peter Simas
Directed by Jason Eisener

Webster’s gonna have to put out a new dictionary, because they need to add a picture of Rutger Hauer from Hobo With A Shotgun to the entry for “trash”. Hobo With A Shotgun is the ultimate trash movie, filled with a seemingly non-stop orgy of bloody splatters and disembowelments. They try for some substance but there’s none, which is to expected, but it’s not nearly as fun as it should be. It’s enjoyable for gorehounds, but it seems more like someone trying to make a movie like the ones they love instead of focusing on the whole and making something of quality. I’m impressed that they made it though and that they got Rutger Hauer! Nice colors throughout too, and not just the reds of blood.

The Night Before (1988)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Lori Loughlin, Theresa Saldana, Trinidad Silva, Suzanne Snyder, Morgan Lofting, Gwil Richards, Chris Hebert, Michael Greene, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, George Clinton
Directed by Thom Eberhardt

Great in concept, but a little lackluster in execution, The Night Before tells the wild and crazy tale of how Keanu Reeves meant to take Lori Loughlin to the prom but ended up on the wrong side of the tracks in East LA. This begins a series of fuckups too numerous to list here. The interesting thing about this one is that it’s mostly told through inventive flashbacks as Reeves stumbles through alleyways trying to piece together what happened to him just a few hours ago. It gets tiring as it goes on, but it’s still a fun movie overall. Strangely enough, I saw this movie on TV a couple of times but I could never remember its name until recently when I happened upon it while doing some IMDB searching. If only I had retraced my steps like Keanu, my search wouldn’t have taken twenty years.

No Strings Attached (2011)

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Jake M. Johnson, Cary Elwes, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Kline, Chris Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell, Ophelia Lovibond, Talia Balsam, Guy Branum
Directed by Ivan Reitman

No Strings Attached is an enjoyable romantic comedy, but like all romantic comedies it’s wildly predictable and its success lies completely in the hands of its leads. Thankfully both Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher perform their duties well and paint a good picture of a shallow relationship. Directed by Ivan Reitman(!) with little to no flair or style, the film fits perfectly into that tired mainstream studio mold that seems to endlessly churn out the same film over and over. It’s not as funny as it should be, nor is it as touching as it thinks it is, but it was a fun night off for my brain.

Quick Takes: The Baxter, Burlesque, The Secret in Their Eyes

This is a new feature I’m trying out. Let me know if you think it’s a good idea or not. At certain times I end up watching more movies than usual and I don’t have time to write reviews for them all. This always nags at me, as these movies are seen but not weighed in on via the site, so I thought I’d throw them together in one Quick Takes post and leave it at that. Your thoughts?


The Baxter (2005)

Starring Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux
Directed by Michael Showalter

Great acting and some funny writing make this take on the romantic comedy fun and heart-warming. Michelle Williams is especially fantastic here, as are Michael Showalter and Elizabeth Banks. I generally hate romantic comedies, but The Baxter won me over with its interesting premise, quality script and nice visuals.

Burlesque (2010)

Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci
Directed by Steve Antin

Burlesque isn’t a very good movie. It’s highly formulaic, it’s overlong, it’s derivative of every other film in the genre. But damn if Burlesque isn’t entertaining! The acting is surprisingly very good, even from Christina Aguilera. Cher and Stanley Tucci play off each other perfectly, selling the story that they’ve been friends for decades. Visually very pleasing and the songs are enjoyable, Burlesque is a good evening off for your brain. AND get this… it’s the directorial début from Steve Antin, Troy from The Goonies!

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Starring Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella
Directed by Juan José Campanella

This Academy Award winning film for Best Foreign Language film is a stunner. Slow-moving and methodical, it is more of a character study than the detective thriller it might seem to be from the back of the box. As a character study it is extremely competent, with every moment informed by the deep well of character motivations that each actor has to pull from. The last fifteen minutes are fantastic and take the old “Would this character do that?” writing argument to a masterful conclusion. Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind a slow-burning film.

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