Directed by Will Gluck, Friends With Benefits follows two friends, art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and head-hunter Jamie (Mila Kunis), who, unable to maintain relationships and deal with the emotional stress that they entail, decide to add sex to their friendship, promising that they won’t let it become more than just a sexual release.
Of course, nothing is that easy and the obvious complications arise, concluding in the two realising their true feelings for each other. That much we can guess, but fortunately the film avoids being a cliché in many ways and is a unique rom-com that even your boyfriend will like.
The film opens with Jamie and Dylan breaking up with their partners. Jamie is emotionally damaged and Dylan is unable to emotionally commit; a true-to-life scenario leading to the fundamental questions, Can females have sex without becoming emotionally attached? And can males have meaningful sex without being dismissive? The two are yet to meet, but when Jamie recruits Dylan for the art director of GQ in her hometown of New York, it’s this conflict that the film begins to deal with. Can friends have sex and remain just friends? And where does the boundary lie between sex turning a friendship into something more or dissolving the friendship completely?
Although we know the film will ultimately end with one of these conclusions, either they become strangers to each other or they form a relationship, we are still left to guess which one and when. You may think you know where the story is going, but the well thought out, entertaining story in between delays any sudden change in direction.
The characters in this back story as well, including Dylan’s sister Annie (Jenna Elfman), his father (Richard Jenkins), his colleague Tommy (Woody Harrelson) and Jamie’s mother Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), create their own personal allegories which are just as allusive as the story they encompass. Jenkins adds a real emotion to the film as he plays a character with Alzheimer’s, and Harrelson brings in the laughs as an unexpected homosexual.
It’s this realism that makes the film successful, dealing with a number of situations that we are likely to experience, and with the main conflict of sex and friendship that we will all experience at some point in our lives. Likewise, Timberlake and Kunis play their characters effectively too, making it easy for them to relate to, connected us to the film in one way or another.
This isn’t a typical rom-com. It’s not cheesy and it’s not cringey, nor does it make you leave feeling like a lonely singleton or with a sicky feeling as an opposer of love. You will laugh throughout, get that lump in your throat at least once, and will find yourself smiling when things work out. It’s just what the film does to you.