Tag Archives: friends with benefits

Review – Friends With Benefits (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Six months ago, the light-hearted No Strings Attached came out. It starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and explored the idea of whether or not friends could have sexual relations devoid of emotion. Friends With Benefits deals again with this issue, just with better jokes and more sex.

Dylan and Jamie making their pact to have 'no emotions, just sex.'

Friends With Benefits centres round Jamie (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Black Swan, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake – Alpha Dog, The Social Network, In Time), both of whom are ‘emotionally damaged’ after being dumped by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Jamie is a head-hunter, who flies Dylan over from LA to New York to recruit him for the advertising firm, GQ. No sooner does Dylan get off the plane, the two of them strike up a friendship that soon goes beyond the borders of a platonic relationship. The question is: can they keep it up without falling for one another?

The storyline is enjoyable and far from intense. Friends With Benefits is filled with sex scenes, but lacks the volume of nudity seen in Love & Other Drugs. However, just like in No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits becomes predictable and a little cliché by the end (as is to be expected from a romantic comedy). Even the key song of the film, the normally very pleasant Closing Time by Semisonic, feels a little overused and cheesy by the end.

Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman). She cannot believe that her brother is not going out with Jamie.

Over-all, director-producer, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up!), has put the film together nicely. There are some corny moments and conveniences in the plot, but it could have been so much worse, as The Back-Up Plan and Valentine’s Day illustrate. Likewise, the dialogue and the acting are not terrible either. There is some good banter between the appealing Jamie and Dylan, which will make the audience laugh. The humour in Friends With Benefits may lack the sophistication of that in One Day; nevertheless, it is not slapstick.

Out of the two main characters, Mila Kunis steals the show. Indeed, she is the star of the movie. Not only is Kunis strikingly attractive (even in the mornings after a steamy night), her character, Jamie, has a fun and lively personality that is the envy of single men (and possibly some married ones too). Additionally, when Jamie needs to be severe or upset, Kunis makes it look genuine. This is not the case with Justin Timberlake. Playing the young, up-coming, smooth-talking manager, he does just fine. Yet, when he attempts to be serious he looks like a petulant child not getting his way.

Dylan and Jamie going for a walk in the park.

The characters and the storyline in Friends With Benefits have their flaws. Both of the key players lack depth; as does the rest of the cast, with perhaps the exception of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins – Changing Lanes, Burn After Reading, The Cabin in the Woods). Moreover, the movie does not adequately explain why Dylan and Jamie are ‘emotionally screwed up’. (Then again, this is a romantic comedy. What was one expecting?)

For those who enjoyed No Strings Attached, there is little doubt that they will enjoy Friends With Benefits too. The latter film is fun and, in Jamie (Mila Kunis), has a girl that is the stuff of dreams. Furthermore, the movie has some amusing jokes, and enables the audience to switch off whilst watching two good-looking people making out with one another regularly. Whether one will come out believing that a friend with benefits is possible is another matter.

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Review – One Day (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Romantic comedies (better known as ‘chick flicks’), such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and He’s Just Not That Into You, tend to be sweet, sentimental (cringe-worthy) and predictable. One Day is nothing of the kind, and has a twist that few will see coming. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.)

Dexter and Emma, with those geeky 1980s-glasses, out on a countryside walk on that fateful day in 1989, when their bewildering relationship started.

One Day is based on the book by David Nichols. Set in grim and rainy England, the storyline revolves round the self-obsessed Dexter (Jim Sturgess – The Other Boleyn Girl, The Way Back, Ashes) and the innocent, geeky-looking Emma (Anne Hathaway – Bride Wars, Rio, The Dark Knight Rises), two individuals who are hopelessly (and, to some extent, tragically) in love with one another, but decide to be ‘friends’ rather than lovers. Dexter and Emma get with one another on the 15th July 1989, the day of their graduation from university, and decide to keep in contact. They write and call one another quite regularly, and meet up for their ‘anniversary’ every year on the same day for years, sustaining a varying relationship, despite moving on with their lives.

The film’s plot may not be entirely faithful to the book. Nevertheless, the movie is absorbing and not difficult to follow, even if one occasionally forgets which year he/she is in. One Day is captivating primarily because it does not have the feel of a predictable romantic comedy. One never knows what direction the (dismaying) relationship between Dexter and Emma will take. In addition, Emma’s intelligent, wry humour is very amusing, and distinctively unlike the standard slap-stick comedy that is habitual in ‘chick flicks’.

Dexter getting touchy with Emma, as he rubs suncream into her back on their ‘anniversary’.

Playing Dexter and Emma, Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, respectively, do themselves no harm. But Sturgess’s character, Dexter, is far from the most challenging of roles. The same can be said for Hathaway’s character, Emma. Additionally, Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent may fluctuate between a Leeds-based one, a Scottish one, and a posh-English one, but on the whole it is acceptable.

Yet, even though Sturgess and Hathaway perform decently enough throughout One Day, there is little character depth and almost no character development throughout the film. This means that Dexter and Emma hardly change or mature in twenty-odd years. (Then again, in reality nor do most people.) It is the same for the other members of the cast too, such as the goofy Ian (Rafe Spall – Kidulthood, Hot Fuzz, Anonymous) and the bimbo Tara (Amanda Fairbank-Hynes – An Education, Monte Carlo, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). This is a shame for the actors, as the script (despite already being laid out in a book) simply isn’t good enough and does not give them the adequate tools to make the movie unique.

As remarkable as it may seem that the characters remain virtually the same throughout One Day, the same can be said for Emma’s hairstyle and fashion sense. Both look like they’re locked in the era of Saved By The Bell. By the mid-2000s, she looks wholly anachronistic. The same can be said for Ian too. Surely the director, Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education), noticed this whilst making the film? Evidently not.

Dexter and Emma, both looking glamorous, catching up with one another years later.

Other noticeable faults with One Day are that it feels rushed and, in places, poorly put together. The film may have to cover two decades in the space of 107 minutes, but that is not an excuse for scenes not being stitched well together. Furthermore, some of the music adopted appears badly chosen and does not fit with the scenes at all.

One Day is far from the norm for a romantic comedy. The film has its flaws and could have been much more, but Sturgess and Hathaway perform well enough with what they are given to make it worthwhile viewing. For One Day is witty, entertaining and unpredictable. Wait for the twist.

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Review – Black Swan (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

Obsession is a dangerous mindset to fall into. It has the power to consume its victim, and drive him or her to madness. Black Swan may look like it is about ballerinas and Ballet in general, but it is not: it is about obsession, and the psychological effects and the physical strains it can cause someone. Yet, if the film meant to tackle these complex issues acutely, it goes preposterously too far to be taken seriously.

The movie is viewed through the eyes of Nina (Natalie Portman – Star Wars I IIIBrothers, Your Highness), an innocent, pretty but mentally unstable ballerina, who lives with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey – Falling Down, Hannah and her Sisters). Nina has seemingly devoted her whole life to becoming Odette, the White Swan, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But the company she works for has made a slight altercation to the performance: the girl who plays Odette will also have to play her evil twin-sister, Odile, the Black Swan. Whilst Nina fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, she has to learn how to become manipulative and provocative in order to play the Black Swan.

Thomas urging Nina to ‘feel’ and ‘respond’ to his touch as the latter needs to learn how to become the Black Swan.

Nina is determined to play both roles flawlessly. But her obsession with perfection exposes her already fragile mind, as well as her various insecurities. It is not long before reality and Nina’s perceptions of reality (hallucinations?) start to thread together to look like one and the same. Paranoia goes hand in hand with this too. A younger and, perhaps, even more beautiful girl, called Lily (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits), joins the company making Nina believe that she is going to be replaced as the lead performer. Consequently, Nina works ever harder, pushing herself to the brink (and beyond), in order to please and convince her demanding boss, Thomas (Vincent Cassels – La Haine, Derailed, Trance), that she is right for the dual role. Regardless of the personal cost.

The acting in Black Swan, across the board, is exceptional. Natalie Portman is without a doubt the star of the show. Portman captures the mental anguish that Nina goes through with remarkable consistency and concentration. One is never sure what mental state Nina is in, or what is real and what is not real with her. Portman is solely responsible for this and rightly deserves the credit.

This is not to say that Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Vincent Cassels do themselves an injustice; far from it. But Portman’s performance as Nina is Oscar-winning material. It has also finally enabled her to remove the shackles from her piteous performance as Padmé in Star Wars I, II and III. Yes, Portman’s performances in Closer and Brothers showed us that she had the potential to be a great actor, but in Black Swan she reveals that she has more than just mere potential with stunning effect.

Lily, played by Mila Kunis, looking beautiful despite having done some intense ballet practice.

It is not just the acting that is superb throughout the movie. The director, Darren Aranofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has done the choreography and the music brilliantly too. As a result, just like in Pi and Requiem, the disturbing nature of Black Swan has the maximum effect upon the audience. (Think of the masturbation or the lesbian-sex scenes to mention but two.)

The travesty for Black Swan is that it is neither as intense nor as shocking as it should have been. It is certainly not in the same league as Requiem. Whilst Requiem is harrowingly realistic, Black Swan becomes a little farcical towards the end. This is a pity for cast and director alike. It is unlikely that Aranofsky, judging by his previous works, intended to turn this movie into a pantomime.

These are by no means the only flaws in Black Swan either. Although the film hints at how dedicated one must be to become a top ballerina, it fails to detail the positive aspects of the industry. Instead, the movie focuses upon many of the negative stereotypes, such as eating disorders and overbearing parents. (Apparently, much of these are out of date in the West.)

Black Swan is by no means an objective portrayal of the Ballet world. The film also lacks the jaw-dropping, stomach-churning ability of Requiem. Then again, Black Swan is still a very entertaining psychological thriller and is quite distressing. Moreover, the acting is of the highest quality. Few actors will better Natalie Portman’s performance over the coming year, and she rightly deserves the nominations and awards she is receiving. It is just a shame for her and Aranofsky that audiences have laughed more at the absurdity of Nina’s descent, than taken note of the possible consequences of obsession.

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