Boy meets girl, boy befriends girl, boy and girl start hooking up, boy and/or girl wring hands over nascent feelings, boy and girl cease communication and hate each other forever and ever.
So go many modern would-be love stories in our sext-y culture. Hooking up with a buddy is a flawed concept at best. But on screen, "Friends with Benefits" is a delight, a welcome reprieve from run-of-the-mill romantic comedies that benefits from a charming cast. Yes, "No Strings Attached" did this subject before. "Friends with Benefits" does it better.
Mila Kunis is funny. As Jamie, a New York City headhunter who is admittedly messed up about men, she captivates with over-the-top, can't-help-but-love-her craziness. This is a woman who, literally and figuratively, climbs over a gate instead of waiting for it to open.
Kunis does impressions. She makes fun of herself. (Pretending to be a lost model in search of a photo shoot, she tells an incredulous magazine assistant that she's got the perfect body for Photoshop, pointing to her nose and asserting, "This gets way more Christian.") She should star in many, many more comedies.
Justin Timberlake, as Dylan, is her perfect foil. Also screwed up in the head, work is his main course, family is a side, and women are the crumbs on the tablecloth. As in "The Social Network," he plays a California Internet whiz kid, but this time, the allure of the glossy magazine world -- and, of course, Jamie -- sends him out of the digital realm and across the country.
"Friends with Benefits" is Timberlake's highest profile role to date. If "The Social Network" established him as an Oscar-caliber actor, this movie shows that he can lead a comedy as competently as his peers. (Ryan Reynolds and co., watch out.) *NSYNC and "Saturday Night Live" taught Timberlake a lot about timing. He drops laugh-out-loud one-liners with ease.
No surprise, there's a lot of sex in this movie. Once Jamie and Dylan decide that sure, they can hook up without a hint of emotion for the other party, they paw at each other like teenagers after two too many wine coolers. Timberlake's backside glows in all its glory. Kunis' body defies the concept of fat. They get as naked as their nudity clauses and the film's R rating allow.
The best part of their romps is the banter that flies back and forth like a ping-pong ball ricocheting between paddles. Rarely do major motion pictures address the awkward realities of sex. Writer Keith Merryman makes the conversation laughable, if slightly squirmy.
The movie doesn't score on all counts. Director Will Gluck falls victim to traditional rom-com corniness, with flash mob scenes (even Dylan notes that the fad went out with "Oprah") and more than enough references to Prince Charming. Some jokes are old; the story's predictable. And those familiar with New York City will scratch their heads at the many geographical impossibilities, like when Dylan and Jamie leave his Rockefeller Center office for a "convenient lunch" at Cafe Habana in SoHo.
But a stellar supporting cast -- Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's man-eating mother, Woody Harrelson as Dylan's gay office buddy, Emma Stone and Andy Samberg as scorned exes, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones as the stars of the cliche rom-com "Friends With Benefits" tries so hard not to be -- and a poignant plot twist outshine the inconsistencies.
As Jamie's mom says, "You've gotta update your fairy tale, baby." Here's hoping the churners-out of Hollywood's gag-worthy romantic comedies take a tip from this film and do the same.