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Friends with Benefits (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/2/2011

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/30/2011

Well, here we are with another example of what those in the industry like to call "Hollywood synergy". This occurs when two (or more) movies with similar plots are released very close to one another. No Strings Attached (whose tagline was "Friendship has its benefits") hit theaters in January, 2011 and home video in May, 2011. Friends with Benefits arrived at cinemas in July, 2011 and hits home video this week. The two movies feature storylines which are nearly identical in places. In most cases of "synergy", one movie is clearly superior over the other. However, here, Friends with Benefits left me just as unsatisfied as No Strings Attached.

Friends with Benefits opens by introducing us to Dylan (Justin Timberlake), a young man who lives in Los Angeles and has just gone through a break-up. Claiming that he's sick of relationships and in need of a change, Dylan jumps at the opportunity when New York headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis), who has just gone through a break up herself, offers him a job at GQ. As Jamie is the only person Dylan knows in New York, save for his high-strung co-worker Tommy (Woody Harrelson), the two spend a lot of time together and, of course, talk about relationships. They decide that a man and a woman can have a solely physical relationship, so they have sex several times, stating that it's meaningless. And, this seems true at first, as each tries to see other people. However, when each gets a glimpse of the family life of the other, things begin to get serious. Will they take their fling to the next level?

What happened to Will Gluck? After working in television for years, this guy came out of the gate smoking with his feature film debut Fired Up!, a vastly underrated comedy which has become one of my favorite movies. (I watch it at least once every 3 months.) He then brought us the vastly overrated Easy A, a movie which people fell over themselves to praise, but did nothing for me at all. And while Easy A was disappointing, it at least had some spirit. Gluck now brings us the incredibly flat Friends with Benefits. Has success spoiled this guy?

One of the main conceits of Friends with Benefits is that the characters make fun of romantic comedies and their cliches (there is a nice movie-in-movie which offers good cameos). However, the movie then turns around and offers all of these same cliches. Is this supposed to be ironic or clever? With Fired Up!, Gluck skewered teenaged sex comedies (mainly by having the main actors be in their 30s), but I get the feeling that when Friends with Benefits hits every romantic comedy note, it's not doing it in any sort of tongue in cheek way. We are treated to things like musical montages and sassy sidekicks and the wacky family and many others things which we've seen in the movies that Friends with Benefits claims that it's rising above.

So, there's nothing new here. Add that to the fact that the movie has a distinct lack of energy and an uneven tone, and you've got the recipe for disaster. The movie wants us to immediately fall in love with Dylan and Jamie, but this didn't happen, as both characters are very bland. This is further exacerbated by a palpable lack of chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis. Timberlake has proven on Saturday Night Live that he has a gift for comedy, but he's not allowed to show that very often here, and the movie suffers for it. (Although it's clear that he's trying to change his image here with some of the salty language.) This becomes especially glaring in the third act when what has been fairly banal movie suddenly become very serious when Dylan's family and personal problems unexpectedly rush to the forefront. This makes the often silly first half of the movie seem like it had come from a different group of filmmakers.

I won't spoil the ending of Friends with Benefits, but I would love to see a movie like this which didn't end exactly like we thought it was going to. In this genre, we are supposed to cheer for the two main characters to realize that they are perfect for one another, but here, I honestly didn't care. There's a lot of talent involved here, both in front of and behind the camera, but they should have stayed away from this hackneyed premise and gone for something more original.

Friends with Benefits made me wonder why no one commented on that spaceship which had landed so close to the beach on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. There is also no notable video noise. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The daytime scenes (especially those at the beach) has a nice crispness to them, which lends to an impressive amount of depth. The level of detail is good as well, and we can clearly make out textures on objects. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track takes advantage of New York City street scenes and Grand Central Station to offer impressive surround sound. We also get nicely done stereo effects, as the left and right channels are clearly separate and detailed. A few songs provide good subwoofer action.

The Friends with Benefits Blu-ray Disc contains several bonus features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Will Gluck along with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. The movie can also be watched with "Bonus Benefits: A Pop-Up Trivia Track". The Disc contains ten DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes, and can be viewed with commentary from Gluck. All of these are brief, but there is additional Woody Harrelson here and a nice cameo from Dr. Rick from Fired Up!. There is a 7-minute reel of OUTTAKES. "On Set with FWB" (6 minutes) examines what it was like to shoot on the streets in New York City. Gluck and the cast talk about the challenge of making of movie with hundreds of people looking on. They also talk about using some Los Angeles landmarks in the movie. "In a Flash: Choreographing the Mob" (6 minutes) explores the work which went into creating the two flash mobs in the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long