There are a lot of jokes in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits, but most of them miss the mark. It’s almost as if everyone was trying just a little too hard. The witticisms uttered by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, as Dylan and Jamie respectively, sound exactly what they are – written by a team of screenwriters. Both Timberlake and Kunis are capable comic actors, but for some reason, nothing they say in this movie ever sounds fresh or spontaneous. Only Woody Harrelson, playing GQ magazine designer Tommy, manages to wring some laughs (and, as the supplemental features reveal, this was largely through improvising).
The premise is simple. Dylan and Jamie are both the dumped rather unceremoniously by their significant others (brief cameo appearances by Emma Stone and SNL’s Andy Samberg). Their paths cross when Dylan comes moves from Los Angeles to New York City, where Jamie is a headhunter for GQ. Dylan takes the job, but his relationship with Jamie blossoms into a close friendship. As the title suggests, the two decide to be more than “just friends,” stopping short of becoming emotionally involved. Predictably, that proves harder to do than they expected.
Though it earns its R rating, the movie cops out when it comes to the sex scenes. With the exception of a few shots of Timberlake’s ass, everything is strategically placed to avoid revealing too much flesh. If you (like me) were hoping for some nudity from Mila Kunis – forget it. Even her one ultra-quick ass shot is a body double (as pointed with glee by Timberlake in the commentary). Ultimately the sex scenes, through relatively frequent, are way too tame to sustain any real interest. It’s not like I was expecting Showgirls or something, but come on – this is supposed to be a sex romp.
The central question asked by Friends with Benefits is: can a man and woman with perfectly matched personalities and totally sexually compatible maintain an emotionally detached friendship? If you can’t guess the answer, you probably haven’t seen too many romantic comedies. Which may be a good thing in terms of enjoying this movie. The cast is game and the plot moves along at a suitably brisk pace. But it never catches fire the way it could have. And a subplot that makes light of Dylan’s Alzheimer-stricken father (Richard Jenkins) is unfortunately a distasteful stain on an otherwise harmless trifle.
Friends with Benefits looks more than acceptable on Blu-ray, framed at 2.40:1. Shot digitally, the transfer looks good without ever being spectacular. Detail is strong overall even in low light scenes, which is a good thing considering how much of the movie takes place at night. When she’s backlit, you can practically count the individual strands protruding from Mila Kunis’ otherwise straight hair. Maybe it’s just the makeup or the way they were lit, but the actors’ faces appear a bit smoothed over and lacking in fine detail. Colors seem intentionally subdued, giving the film a somewhat cool look. This is not a poor reflection on the Blu-ray, just worth mentioning as this isn’t the kind of presentation where colors pop off the screen. This is not a stunning example of high definition’s capability, but it looks just fine.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is simply adequate. This type of movie doesn’t really require anything more than is delivered here. Dialogue is centered, distortion-free, and always mixed at an appropriate level. Being a dialogue-driven romantic comedy, there isn’t much going on in the rear channels other than crowd or traffic noise during the appropriate scenes. It all sounds fine without being anything noteworthy. A scene involving Woody Harrelson piloting a small water vessel on New York harbor offers a bit of an atypically immersive soundscape. Music is clear and provides some nice LFE channel action.
Supplemental features include a surprisingly entertaining commentary track by director Will Gluck accompanied by stars Timberlake and Kunis. The chatty, profanity-laced track is refreshingly funny, with on one taking it too seriously (not kidding – the commentary is infinitely funnier than the movie itself). The eight minutes of deleted scenes contain a few laughs, while the outtake reel is a fairly standard montage of miffed lines (Harrelson provides the best bits). Exclusive to Blu-ray are a pop-up trivia track, a fluffy behind the scene featurette, and another short featurette about choreographing the flash mob sequence. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack also includes – you guessed it – a standard DVD of the movie as well as an UltraViolet digital copy.