Friends With Benefits
DIRECTED BY: Will Gluck
STARRING: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins
As a rule, I try to avoid watching telly unless it involves re-runs of MASH, or anything concerning Liverpool FC. Not because I’m some class of a snob, or because I have anything better to be doing. But because exposure to the box usually results in my wife making a phone call, and me being carried screaming from the house by large gentlemen in medical uniforms. Which apparently is very upsetting for the children.
But for reasons I can’t recall – perhaps because I fell down the stairs and suffered a serious brain injury, of which I now have no memory – I found myself watching a programme the other night called One Hit Wonders Of The 90s. You know, the kind of thing they throw together to fill the hour that once might have been filled by something original, crafted by creative people who expected to be paid.
Anyway, one of the featured songs was Closing Time, a fine tune by Minneapolis outfit Semisonic. Which in fact was not a one hit wonder at all, since the band had several other decent hits.
Though it was a Grammy-nominated hit, and a number one hit. Indeed, as the lads themselves later revealed, it was a number one hit largely because of obscene amounts of cash paid by the record company to American radio stations in return for airplay. Oh yes, kids. Keep that in mind while you’re jamming in the garage.
Anyway, instead of the usual visit to the secure unit, I wound up on YouTube getting properly reacquainted with the band. You know how it is. And in the comments section under Closing Time, there were several posts that said, “Thumbs up if Friends With Benefits sent you here!”
To which I was about to respond, “No, you clowns! I’m here because I used to buy the band’s records!” Then I remembered I was actually there because of a TV show called One Hit Wonders Of The 90s. Which is when I turned to my wife and told her to make The Phone Call after all.
So yes, Closing Time turns up in Friends With Benefits, and is one of the few memorable things about the film. Not that Semisonic get the thanks for it – the leading man claims the song is sung by Third Eye Blind. If he watched cheap television programmes more often, he’d know better.
This leading man in Justin Timberlake (no stranger to hits of the 90s), who plays a website art director called Dylan, newly split from his girlfriend Kayla (Emma Stone).
Dylan meets a corporate head hunter called Jamie (Kunis), who persuades him to up and move to New York, to take a nice little gig with GQ magazine. (Note to head hunters, female or otherwise: I’m always open to persuasion.)
Jamie is also a love casualty, recently broken up with boyfriend Quincy (Andy Samberg). So you know the drill – neither wants to jump back on the relationship merry-go-round, so they decide to remain friends instead.
The benefits are really one benefit – they get to sleep with each other, often and with great enthusiasm. But no commitments allowed.
No romantic comedy clichés allowed, either. Yes, this couple knows the old Hollywood formula. They make fun of it, watch it played out on-screen (an ill-advised movie within a movie), and will avoid it at all costs. They’re like the guys in Scream, who warned everyone not to do what the dumb people in horror flicks do, right before ending up dead. And as it did in Scream, this smug device – and the incessant yapping that goes with it – gets tired fast.
Worse still, like the Scream characters before them, Dylan and Jamie eventually end up playing by the jaded old formula anyway, succumbing to all the dreaded clichés. Because hey, who could fail to have their heart melted by a sex-mad mother (Patricia Clarkson), a sweet sister (the lovely Jenna Elfman), one absent father, and another dad with Alzheimer’s – played by the excellent Richard Jenkins, quickly becoming the go-to man for heartbreaking conditions, having brought tears to this viewer’s eyes as the autistic father in the otherwise dreadful Dear John.
If you must go see this, there is the consolation of a few good laughs, for the most part courtesy of Woody Harrelson as GQ’s brash gay sports editor, the only man I know of in movie history who drives to work in a speedboat.
I suppose it’s also a plus that Friends With Benefits is at least more bearable than the recent and almost identical No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and the insufferable Ashton Kutcher.
And if nothing else, there is that decent soundtrack to listen to. If it sends you looking for more, and you end up tracking down Semisonic – check out the superior Singing In My Sleep, about the wonderful gift of a mix tape from a lover.
If you don’t know what a mix tape is, ask an old person.