Thursday, August 04, 2011

A few things about Friends with Benefits

I have not been getting out to many movies recently. My health has kept me home and the medications I've been on have made it difficult to concentrate. But while I haven't been seeing many of the 2011 summer movies, what I have seen has been damn enjoyable and the proceeding coming attractions seems to suggest that there are going to be a lot of exciting movies in the near future.

But I didn't want to miss the opportunity to say a few good things about what might be among my favorite romantic comedies of the year, Friends with Benefits. In Will Gluck's follow up to Easy A, Jamie (Mila Kunis) is a head-hunter who successfully recruits Dylan (Justin Timberlake) for GQ. They quickly become friends and as both have just survived ugly break-ups, they agree to a friends with benefits arrangement as they obviously are both too emotionally unavailable and damaged to be in a relationship. And what develops is a very self-aware romantic comedy that is well versed in the conventions of the genre, but takes care with employing them. Friends with Benefits avoids some of the cliches simply by the nature of Dylan and Jamie's relationship being about friendship instead of romance.

Not to say that Friends with Benefits didn't still employ a few of the conventions that are so familiar in the modern romantic comedy, like the gay best friend, as there most definitely is a token gay best friend. However, unexpectedly, is isn't Jamie with the flamboyant, gay sidekick, but Dylan. Woody Harrelson plays Tommy, the gay sports writer at GQ who is quick to point out that it is Dylan, the pretty boy GQ art director that should be the queer one and seems more than a bit skeptical of Dylan's assertions of heterosexuality. So while the inclusion of a gay friend, to function as comedic relief is a convention, the specifics are anything but conventional. Woody Harrelson is not the first actor to come to mind when casting gay and his portrayal of Tommy is a far cry from the neutered, gay man in the majority of Hollywood movies. Like while Tommy does not have romantic interest of his own, he isn't exactly subtle about making his preference and interest in cock known. Additionally, Friends with Benefits doesn't treat homosexuality as some kind of threat to masculinity. Tommy is open with his appreciation of Dylan's assets, but not being an apetow comedy, these characters are not at all threatened or bothered by each others sexual orientation. In otherwords, this is a modern, mature comedy about sex.

And finally, Friends with Benefits recognizes that friendship is the essential ingredient to healthy, functional relationships. This plays out early in the film when the arrangement is made and they determine their compatabiity. It is downright subversive the way Dylan and Jamie discuss sex. At one point, Jamie interrupts Dylan's attempt at cunnilingus because it wasn't working and shows him what does. I was stunned. I've only seen that scene in one other movie and it was from a much less mainstream filmmaker and part of the new gay cinema that is know for pushing the bounds of on screen sexuality, but I never expected to see a similar sex scene in a mainstream, summer romantic comedy.

But finally, what makes Friends with Benefits enjoyable is the natural chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. They are extremely charismatic stars that are easy to watch fall in love and while by the conclusion, Friends with Benefits easily falls into the mold of a conventional romance, I still appreciated that in this love story, the most essential aspect of Dylan and Jamie's relationship was not the sex, but the friendship. And this is a movie message that I can endorse.

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