Hotshot media art director Dylan has had it pretty good. He's been able to excel at his craft in an uncertain journalistic world. And now he's gotten a call to fly from L.A. to New York to interview for a big job at GQ magazine. But, honestly, he's having second thoughts.
This could be something of a dream gig for him, he knows. And he just went through an ugly breakup with his girlfriend, so there's not much tying him to the West Coast. In fact, flying away and leaving any mention of a "relationship" behind sounds kind of appealing. Still, signing a contract and moving to New York is a pretty big commitment.
And Dylan's not so big on commitment.
His attractive Manhattan-based corporate headhunter, Jamie, however, can be pretty persuasive. And not only does she convince him to take the job, she and Dylan become fast friends.
Of course, they say men and women can't really be friends. But Jamie just went through her own relationship train wreck, and she's not in the market for a new love interest either. So it's settled: They'll just have fun and be good pals.
Right. And Hollywood's got a bagful of good morals to sell you in this movie, too.
It's not like they feel that way about each other. But they do get along. So why not try a little physical interplay along with all the hanging out? No messy emotional ties required. It'll just be like a … good game of tennis. Fun and invigorating. Only this version of the game never requires you to use the word love.
The film doesn't illustrate any kind of moral grounding for either of its central characters, but it does point to their very different familial relationships and the impact they had. Dylan expresses a close connection with both his sister and his aging dad who has Alzheimer's disease. He talks of his love and protective feelings for his father and reports that they are one of the rare families who "don't lie to each other." Dad tells Dylan not to "waste a minute" of life. On the flip side, it's suggested that Dylan's fear of commitment stems from his mother deserting them.
Jamie has an odd "let's just get along" relationship with her boozy, sexually promiscuous mom, Lorna. At one point Lorna admits that she knows her daughter doesn't want to repeat her "mistakes." (But then she turns right around and encourages Jamie to "update" her perspective.)
Also, there's this: In the end, it's clear that Dylan and Jamie care deeply for each other—even though the only commitment they ultimately make is to their friendship.
While setting the ground rules for their new "sex with no relationship" relationship, Jamie and Dylan decide they need to take an oath. So Jamie pulls out her iPad and pulls up a Bible app that they lay both hands on. Elsewhere, someone calls a man wearing nothing but an athletic supporter a "Christ figure." There's a reference to the separation of church and state.
Read between the lines and you'll note an acknowledgement of this little fact: Sex creates permanent bonds between people, even when those people don't want it to. Read the lines themselves, though, and this is all you get:
In multiple scenes the camera lingers on Jamie and Dylan as they move around to various sexual positions, caressing, kissing passionately and indulging in intercourse. They don't display full-frontal nudity, but don't mistake that as any sort of reluctance to show off skin. We see rear nudity and the two of them naked and pressed up against each other.
Each performs oral sex on the other to climactic endings. (Explicit visual detail is strategically covered by a sheet; explicit movements and sounds are not obscured at all.) During these scenes, they talk and talk and talk—in graphic terms—usually about their sexual preferences and how to do certain things.
Jamie sleeps with another guy. Dylan makes out with a one-night stand who licks and sniffs his armpit and places his hand on her T-shirt-clad breast. Dylan fondles Jamie's clothed breasts. A woman mixes a bowl full of batter with her bare breasts. We see both Dylan and Jamie in their underwear. Dylan's sis displays quite a bit of cleavage.
Dylan's co-worker Tommy is very aggressive about his homosexuality, repeatedly quizzing Dylan on his sexual preferences and openly ogling or chatting up nearby men. One of his magazine photo shoots showcases a half-dozen men wearing only jockstraps. Nearly naked ladies join the picture. Noteworthy is the fact that Tommy is the only person who tells Dylan that his loveless sex arrangement won't work—even though that ideal never seems to impact Tommy's own casual-sex lifestyle.
Jamie's mother is very open about her sleep-around past and present. And she readily gives her daughter kudos for the no-strings sex she's experimenting with. She repeatedly states that she doesn't remember who Jamie's father was. And she and others deliver a steady stream of jokes involving raunchy references to both male and female sexual anatomy, anal sex, oral sex, gay sex and straight sex. A quip is tossed out about having sex with President Obama.
Famous snowboarder Shaun White instantly takes a disliking to Dylan and threatens to rip off his ears and staple them to his neck. At a restaurant, Dylan's disoriented father stumbles and crashes to the floor.
Crude or Profane Language
Noticing some of Jamie's physical ticks, Dylan tells her, "Every time you curse, you blink. It's as if your body is rejecting the word."
Jamie does a whole lot of blinking in this movie.
Almost 30 f-words and 35 s-words are joined by 15 or so misuses of God's and Jesus' names. (God's is sometimes combined with "d‑‑n.") We also hear "h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑." And as mentioned, crude and vulgar references are made to sex and sexual body parts.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Beer, wine and hard liquor flow freely—at restaurants, clubs and parties. Also in living rooms. At two different parties both Dylan and Jamie are shown to get drunk and pass out. In both cases, people draw on their faces with markers. They spend another night talking and drinking a bottle of alcohol in Jamie's bedroom.
Lorna tells tales of her freewheeling days in the '70s that included lots of drug taking and glue sniffing. In the present, she has a drink at hand in nearly every scene and is once found passed out on Jamie's bed.
Other Negative Elements
Several times it's stated that Jamie is emotionally damaged. Her problem? She believes in "true love," something obviously out of sync with the world around her. As a joking slam, Dylan and Jamie both suggest that they'll have sex and be emotionally distant "like George Clooney." Which leads, really, to the film's largest flaw: For all of Dylan's and Jamie's emotional flailing about, there isn't a single person in the film who honestly and sincerely confronts them with the wrongness of what they're doing. One remarks that it won't work, but no one so much as hints that the choice might be even misguided, much less sin.
Dylan, in fact, declares that commitment in a relationship steals your life away.
It's mentioned several times that male fans of Harry Potter are probably gay. Dylan's dad removes his trousers in public, a habit linked to his Alzheimer's disease. Dylan breaks away during sex to urinate—and we're required to listen to every spurt and drip.
When I was a kid, my mother used to say that raunchy language was proof of a weak mind. Meaning, of course, that only those who can't use the brain God gave them will resort to filling the air with profanity. Well, since then, for the purposes of my film reviewing, I've adapted that tried-and-true philosophy to: "Raunchy language and sleazy sexuality is generally proof of a weak-minded script and an awful movie."
That certainly holds true in this case.
Like the similarly themed No Strings Attached that I reviewed earlier this year, Friends With Benefits tries to remake an old chestnut of a romcom idea into something new and edgy by stirring in a mix of foul language, risqué gags and the wink-wink twist of "meaningless" sex between a couple of pals. The result is a film that's painfully predictable, moral compass-free, profanely vulgar and crammed with as much flesh as the actors' contractual nudity clauses will permit.
That's not to say that the two leads aren't dynamic and attractive. They are. But that's about all the appeal this flick can muster. And even they have a difficult time cracking "perky" jokes in the midst of multiple camera fondlings and orgasmic yelps.
Slightly ironic because of Dylan's new job onscreen, star Mila Kunis told GQ that she had never had a "friends with benefits"-style relationship. "It's like communism—good in theory, in execution it fails," she said. "Friends of mine have done it, and it never ends well. Why do people put themselves through that torture?"
And you know, when I think about this flick, I can't help asking the same question.