Oddly, it makes fun of the clichés of the genre even as it indulges in them
Here is the only thing that distinguishes “Friends with Benefits” from every other movie out there: aAll of its characters peck away on Sony Vaio computers, lovingly shown in close-up, rather than on Apple Macs.
Why this seemingly serendipitous product placement? That’s easy: Screen Gems, which is releasing “Friends,” is owned by the Sony Corp.
Now, on to the greater mystery of why anyone thought there was a crying need to make this movie.
“Friends” is a rom-com that wants to have its cake and eat it too, drawing attention to and making fun of the clichés of the genre even as it indulges in them.
This is Irony 101.
It opens with its romantic protagonists — an art director named Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and an executive recruiter named Jamie (Mila Kunis) — being dumped by their respective amours (Andy Samberg and Emma Stone, in cameos). Clearly, this love thing isn’t working out for either of them.
They meet when Dylan flies from his home in L.A. to New York City, where Jamie is trying to place him as the design director at GQ magazine. He takes the job, the two become friendly and decide that, rather than going through the hassles of dating merely to have sex, they’ll scratch that basic itch with each other and save themselves the complications of emotional entanglements.
Anyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy before knows where this one is going. Even the, ahem, best laid plans don’t’ always work out. It’s clear to everyone else in the movie and anyone watching, even if not to themselves, that Dylan and Jamie are falling for each other as they fall frequently and with enthusiasm on top of each other.
In trying to be something other than just another rom-com, “Friends” includes lots of rowdy sex talk and scenes. (Here’s your chance to see Timberlake’s backside in all its naked glory.) A few of these are funny, but many are simply sophomoric, including an extended toilet-joke scene.
The major problem with “Friends” is that the tepid Timberlake and full-on sexy Kunis seem woefully mismatched. She’s a human barracuda, feisty and full of energy and capable of emotional swings that could knock a truck sideways.
Timberlake, not so much. And that’s really disappointing. He has often been hilarious in his frequent appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” but in an extended film role, especially one in which he is required to do more than comedy, he appears diminished, a wan, pale presence. If Jamie and Dylan existed in real life, she’d dine on him for breakfast — no sexual pun intended — and be ravenous again by 10 a.m.
“Friends” at least offers a notable supporting cast. Dependable veterans Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins turn up, the former as Jamie’s kooky, irresponsible mother, and the latter as Dylan's fading-into-Alzheimer’s father.
Woody Harrelson barrels through awkward comic scenes as an enthusiastically gay colleague of Blake’s. And Jason Segel and Rashida Jones pop up in a film within the film, an especially awful romantic comedy that Jamie and Dylan watch repeatedly, making fun of it and even as they are inexorably drawn to it.
It is a mark of “Friends’” inauthenticity that both of its 20something-year old lead characters, though in well paid but not Wall Street wages jobs, have fabulous, roomy Manhattan apartments. Not only that, but they magically zip from one end of town to the other in seconds, thinking nothing of heading from midtown’s Rockefeller Center to “grab lunch” all the way down in Soho.
As we New Yorkers say, “Feh!”