Friends with Benefits takes a long time to land on a runway of familiarity. It’s actually a train station of familiarity, but still.
The whole thing is a tease, from precisely placed bed sheets that defy physics with their ability to stick to naughty bits to the jibs at romantic comedies. Mila Kunis says she wants her life to be like a movie, and it does… the worst kind. Do they break up at precisely 70-minutes in? On the dot. With 10-minutes remaining does the guy run cross city to salvage himself from the biggest mistake of his life? Of course. Is it as canned as you’d expect? It’s worse actually.
There’s no risk and thus no reward. Benefits comes across as more concerned with pleasing corporate product placement sponsors than telling a story. Kunis goes so far as to offer a lesson on how to use a PlayStation Move, Sony using their leverage as the production studio to an excessive degree.
It’s a shame too, Kunis and Justin Timerblake pouring on the chemistry and dumping out what’s been collected by repeating all of the modern genre cliches. Bright spots, particularly Woody Harrelson, are stuck on the sidelines watching, and Richard Jenkins is tossed to the wayside. Jenkins exists because he’s the one that has to give, “the speech.” You know, the one where someone tells the male lead they’re an idiot? Yeah, that’s here too.
The premise, to some extent, ditches those misgivings that has crushed the romantic comedy under its own bloated girth. It’s one thing to have the magical Hollywood stars blossom onto a slowly turning romance, another to base the whole thing on casual sex. The unbelievable level of, uh, “honesty” as Timberlake and Kunis roll around under those covers earns Benefits a glowing, capitalized, bolded R.
What’s unfortunate it that it never does anything with it. Sexual encounters serve as a barely stable base in the front half, emotional turmoil played out in the second if only to set up that boneheaded ending that the movie itself claims to hate. That’s part of the joke, especially when characters discuss the end credits pop song meant to send people home happy, even if it’s without a connection to the story. Benefits does just that, only it’s not funny. It’s an excuse to get away without living dangerously.
Friends With Benefits loves American cities, or LA and New York specifically. It shows them off as if it’s their sole proprietor, the number of aerials or pans of the cityscapes borderline abusive. They’re inconsistent visually, although the good will outweigh the bad. The digitally-captured images can appear supremely edgy and harsh, while on the other hand they carry a window-like effect. Luckily, it’s more of the latter.
Little of that translates to the actors, even forgiving the general darkness most of the scenes find themselves in. Definition here always carries a bit of a hidden quality, peeking out at times before curtailing back into mediocrity. Much of the daylight conversations carry a mild filter, blooming the light sources just enough to knock out high-fidelity detail. It’s hard to call anything here natural, or for that matter, stylized. It sort of blends itself between the two without a great end result.
Sony’s CineAlta series reproduces substantial black levels, critical for a movie that adores nighttime in either apartments or restaurants. Dimensionality isn’t lost, and shadow detail proves capable enough to hold its own no matter the limited light sources.
Tinted warmly, flesh tones take on a golden hue, mostly because the movie is trying to grab at every romantic comedy cliché made available to it. Primaries will lift themselves just a bit to give this one a little zest without being too obnoxiously overdone. Coastlines look stunning without any unnecessary tinkering to ruin the effect. It makes the multitude of exteriors that much better.
If you’ve been waiting since 1992 to hear Kris Kross’ “Jump” in the full glory of DTS-HD, here’s your disc. That, and Third Eye Blind’s… err, Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” The latter is used for a constant frame of reference as if the audience forgot. Regardless, there’s no fidelity dip or loss of bass from either, peaks punching into the low-end with plenty of force.
Street level ambiance has a stifled quality as to not overthrow the dialogue, just minimal car horns, chatter of passer-bys, things like that. The effect is enough to offer a sense of place. Benefits’ sole moment of of heavy work is a helicopter that gets a jump on the characters, rotor blades whirring into each channel with the subwoofer handling its end. While hardly a magnificent audio showcase, there’s enough here to get the job done before… closing time. Sorry.
Bonuses serve up a brief helping of minor factoids, beginning with an involved commentary from director Will Gluck, Justin Timberlake, and Mila Kunis. If you want, that can be paired with a trivia track that runs through the film. Ten deleted scenes will carry some of the commentary with them if you choose, and outtakes with Woody Harrelson are simply golden.
On the Set with FWB details the complexities of shooting in New York while dealing with the local population. In a Flash reveals the equally daunting troubles with choreographing the flash mobs. Neither reaches the six minute mark. BD-Live access from Sony doesn’t offer much of interest, as if it ever does.