The premiere of “Friends with Benefits” was called for 7:30 pm last night. When Justin Timberlake finally appeared at the Ziegfeld Theater at 8:22pm, we knew it would be a long night. Mila Kunis, Emma Stone, Jenna Elfman and director Will Gluck had already done their interviews on the red carpet. Timberlake jumped out of his SUV and shook hands with throngs of fans lined up on the sidewalk. Then he entered the VIP tent and took pictures with Sony execs. The curtain didn’t go up until 8:15, not a record for lateness but pretty damn close.
I may be too old to appreciate “Friends with Benefits.” The screenplay–which had many chefs in the kitchen–is really schizophrenic. It’s coarse and vulgar about sex, with the main characters–Justin Timberlake‘s Dylan and Milas Kunis‘s Jamie–bantering in graphic, playground terms a lot of sex and sexual acts. It’s just TMI– too much information and a lot of actual bathroom “jokes.” The two stars have chemistry and fun.
Timberlake’s acting style reminded me of Frank Sinatra’s. He’s a singer and performer first, so his acting kind of swings. When it lands, every so often, Timberlake is very good. Kunis, coming from “Black Swan,” is much better here. She’s the next Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz/Meg Ryan–America’s sweetheart. She’s sassy and vulnerable.
Of course, they are also naked and getting it on about as much as Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in “Love and other Drugs” earlier this year. Oy vey. Enough already. And enough, please of the soundtrack. The constant, ceaseless music behind every scene in “Friends with Benefits” is relentless and loud. It’s also irrelevant, but it’s there to make up for what’s missing: a plot.
The story is that Dylan and Jamie decide to just screw constantly without emotional ties. Thanks to director and co-screenwriter Will Gluck there’s nothing sexy about their intimacies. It’s more about grappling. Gluck directs these two –who have a lot of charm and chemistry–as if it’s World Wrestling.
There’s no plot but a lot of story. Many stories. One involves Patricia Clarkson as Jamie’s nutty mother. She’s excellent of course. Another is Richard Jenkins as Dylan’s dad, slowing succumbing to dementia. Clarkson and Jenkins simply raise the level of this entire enterprise.
But what an odd movie. Some of it is written cloyingly, with lots of “meta” references to cinema, cultural history, etc. There are swipes at Harry Potter (they keeping calling it gay), Nora Ephron, “Seinfeld,” and so on. There’s also a movie within a movie starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segel. It’s as if Gluck wanted to make “FOB” a “Scary Movie” for rom coms. But then, while upending cliches, he invokes them all over the place.
On the positive side, Timberlake fans–and there are plenty of young girls still listening to his now “classic” music from 2006–will enjoy his good natured sending up of his own singing and of 90s hip hop. On the negative they may not get the whole “flash mob” thing. And New Yorkers will scratch their heads at the fantasy city depicted here. You can film in New York and use our locations, but please get a reality check.