Like many moviegoers, when I heard about the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits, I thought, hey, didn't Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher already make that movie?
Well, sort of.
Like No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits stars a tough cookie heroine (Mila Kunis) with a guarded gooey center. Yet Kunis's Jamie is edgier and more vulnerable than Portman's Emma, making for a more compelling and likable character. Likewise, Justin Timberlake's Dylan trumps Kutcher's Adam. Whereas Adam is eager to be Emma's prince charming from the get-go, Dylan doesn't really know what he wants, which makes him more believable. Although he's a little steamrolled by the more dominant Jamie, he's a worthy opponent, chipping away at her crusty shell until they both end up on equal footing. But what truly makes Friends with Benefits the better movie is that it's really about two friends instead of two near-strangers who just happened to have sex. Kunis and Timberlake have an easy chemistry that cuts through the dating game motions they so cynically mock. Indeed, they first hook up after rolling their eyes at a sappy romance starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones (which, by the way, was funny to watch given Segal's and Jones's animosity toward each other in I Love You Man). It gives you that whole what-if-two-friends-watching-movies-on-the-couch-just-went-for-it? element that was missing in No Strings Attached.
Stuff to watch for: 1) a cameo by Shaun White as himself and 2) Richard Jenkins as Timberlake's father with Alzheimer's. I know, I know, what's something so serious doing in a romantic comedy? But it works.
Friends with Benefits is fun and, dare I say, poignant without being cheesy. At the end, I left the theater happy.