“Friends with Benefits” has easy appeal, star chemistry

Alex Hagen

illustration: Julie Peterson

Lower temperatures and shorter days mean not only the end of summer, but also the end of the summer movie season. In the months to come, movie studios begin releasing more serious films, and breezy comedies and action-packed blockbusters slowly fade away. But even with fall upon us, there’s one last lighthearted movie that deserves your attention.

Though it’s saddled with a generic title and an outwardly one-note premise, “Friends with Benefits”  quietly emerged as one of the summer’s smartest, most entertaining comedies. Mila Kunis  and Justin Timberlake  star as Jamie and Dylan, two friends who decide to have sex while keeping their relationship platonic. It’s easy to guess where the plot heads from there, but “Friends with Benefits” boasts a snappy script and a pair of leads who have an easy, enjoyable chemistry.

Kunis in particular has a charismatic screen presence, imbuing Jamie with subtle heartbreak beneath a resilient veneer. Timberlake, while not as seasoned an actor, possesses outstanding comic timing, and the rapid-fire dialogue between the two stars is thrilling to watch. The film’s supporting cast, featuring Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Emma Stone, is uniformly great. Clarkson is especially top-notch, turning her minor role into a delightfully kooky performance.

This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its faults. Aiming to subvert the clichés of typical romantic comedies, the writing and direction still fall prey to a few familiar plot points. There’s the “meet-cute” at an airport in New York, various misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and the grand romantic gesture (in Grand Central Station, no less!) at the end. In addition to this, the subplot with Jenkins as Dylan’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father often veers into melodrama and exists primarily to inspire Dylan to get back together with Jamie after their relationship falters.

It may not be as subversive as it thinks it is, but with a cast this talented and a mostly satisfying script, “Friends with Benefits” is an excellent choice for a carefree, sunny afternoon.