February release No Strings Attached might have got there first, but Friends With Benefits gets there better.
Mila Kunis is Jamie, a New York headhunter who lures LA art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) east for a job at GQ. She throws in a personal tour of the city and thus begins a bi-coastal bonkfest that’s perfect for two wounded commitmentphobes. Only, as Natalie Portman could have told them, it’s rarely that simple.
Writer/director Will Gluck (Easy A) can’t resist accessorising his thoroughly modern love story with some thoroughly modern technology. It’s a decision he may come to regret in six months’ time, but for now at least, it works, propelled along by his trademark zippy dialogue.
It’s this snappy chat that gave Emma Stone plenty to chew on in Easy A and Gluck does similar favours for Kunis here. It’s easy to see why she’s currently enjoying an America’s-sweetheart moment (see the YouTube clip of a marine asking her out for proof). Timberlake fares less well: delivered by such a famously slick star, Gluck’s smart-arse comebacks just sound smug.
Luckily it’s the chemistry that really counts, and this is a pairing of two peppy firecrackers that makes intuitive sense. Like last year’s Going The Distance, it’s a romantic comedy that’s more raunch than “rom”, but the sex scenes are handled with such deft levity, things never get icky or awkward.
For all the sexting and gratuitous iPad use, Friends With Benefits – like its leads – isn’t as modern as it thinks it is. Gluck’s attempts to critique the clichés of frothy romcoms from within a frothy romcom ring hollow, but it’s a measure of the film’s freshness that he tries it at all.
Sexy, fun and full of quotable zingers, if you see only one casual-sex-com featuring a Black Swan alumni this year, make sure it’s this one.