Friday, July 22, 2011

A Non-Screened Review of Friends With Benefits (2011)

Disclaimer: I have not seen, nor do I intend to see, Friends With Benefits - the new movie starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis due out today.  This review is based on what I have gleaned from the trailers.

Here is the synopsis, from IMDB:
While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan (Timberlake) and Jamie (Kunis) soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.

If you were wondering at all why I do not intend to see this movie, your answer is in that synopsis.  It's telling me everything I need to know about this movie.  And then this trailer fills in the rest.  Before I continue, does any of this premise seem familiar at all?

Allow me to present some evidence:

Okay, are you done watching?  Now, watch the trailer for Friends With Benefits again.  Okay, done?

This movie is doomed for several reasons, but most of all for the fact that it is trying to be a clever meta movie about "avoiding Hollywood clichés" when in fact it appears very formulaic and is treading upon familiar ground.  We've seen this before, and not just in the two (most famous) examples I provided: a couple of friends, scorned by previous lovers, decide that they just want to have sex without the complications of emotions, etc. etc.  They vow to avoid all trappings that remotely resemble an emotional relationship, and inevitably fall into  the problem of one of them (or both) have feelings for each other, and end the film in a happy relationship.

That's all well and good - except that with a synopsis stating they're trying to avoid Hollywood clichés, then they should aim to be as unformulaic as possible.  Instead, we have the off-the-wall mother who counsels her daughter (Patricia Clarkson/Mila Kunis), the Gay Friend (Woody Harrelsson - who, by the way, would be the only person to make this a watchable film), the references to actors who are commonly in romantic comedies (Katherin Heigl/Gerard Butler) - and there are probably many more in the trailer, let alone the rest of the movie.

I won't doubt that perhaps this is a decently-written movie with likeable characters; my issue is how un-original it looks despite its claims to be otherwise.  It will likely perform okay at the box office, but I bet it underperforms compared to what the studio expects.

One interesting thing about the movie is the common trend amongst films these days - that is, 90s pop culture references.  Where before we'd see a lot of references to the 60s/70s/80s, we're seeing more and more "recent" reminders on-screen.  What this tells me is we have a large crop of new writers/directors/producers who are joining the scene, and I hope that movies like this are just them earning their dues before making a truly original film.

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