‘Friends with Benefits’ offers new formula for popular film genreDec. 12, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
A romantic comedy that actually has surprises and a new film from director John Landis are featured in this week’s DVD review column.
Friends with Benefits
The romantic comedy is a demanding genre. We know that audiences are going to want to see a couple meet, fall in love, go through some problems, but then come out at the end committed to one another.
That’s the formula. A romantic comedy audience doesn’t mind that there is a formula they want the formula but only care how the writers and directors make that formula their own.
So there is no need for a spoiler alert in this review. We know that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis the stars of “Friends with Benefits” will be together at the end of the film. It’s the journey that counts in this film, not the destination.
Timberlake plays a talented graphic designer recruited by a headhunter, Kunis, into a new job at GQ in New York. Although they are clearly attracted to one another, both of them resist. Each one has their own emotional baggage involving relationships, but when the moment arrives when they can’t resist each other’s charms any longer they agree to a “friends with benefits” arrangement.
They like hanging out with each other. They like sex with each other. They don’t want to be boyfriend and girlfriend, though.
This all works, kind of, sort of, until this artificial veneer fails, which we all know it will. It has to fall apart as this is a romantic comedy.
Director Will Gluck also helmed “Easy A,” a film I admired a lot. He was also one of the co-writers on this film and there is a candor he presents in situations that might not be acceptable to all audiences. So prepare yourself for some frank language and a bit of skin.
I like the fact that Gluck kids the genre with a cheesy satire of a romantic comedy seen by the two leads starring an uncredited Jason Segel. I also like his casting of the film with Woody Harrelson, Jennna Elfman, Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins in supporting roles.
The two leads are very competent and Timberlake shows once again that he is far more than just a pop singer. Kunis is an actress capable of a wide range of roles and she does this one effortlessly.
Is this a film for the ages? No. Is it a solid, entertaining romantic comedy for 2011? Yes. If you’re fan of the genre, put this one on your list.
Burke and Hare
In 1828, William Burke was hanged in Edinburgh, Scotland, for committing 17 murders to supply fresh cadavers to Dr. Robert Knox, to be used in medical classes. His accomplice, William Hare, and Knox escaped prosecution.
Burke was not only killed, but his skeleton was prepared to be used in anatomy classes and portions of his skin were tanned into leather.
His crimes clearly scandalized Scotland.
This highlight in the history of serial killers has inspired a number of short stories and films, the latest being this very dark, but funny, comedy from John Landis, the director of films such as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” among many others.
Simon Pegg plays Burke and Andy Serkis plays Hare, two down-on-their-luck Irish con men who blunder accidentally into the cadaver business. They merely sought a way to get rid of a boarder who had died.
Once they realize that Knox (Tom Wilkinson) will pay £5 for each corpse, they think they have traveled to the promised land.
Suffocating Hare’s remaining tenant, Old Joseph a cameo role featuring Sir Christopher Lee is their first step toward making sure the doctor has the flow of stiffs needed for his work.
The film weaves together multiple stories and characters well. Knox is in a medical contest with his archrival played by Tim Curry. Burke has fallen in love with an ex-prostitute (Isla Fisher) who is trying to find a backer for an all-female production of “Macbeth.” Burke and Hare must also negotiate their way through Edinburgh’s world of organized crime since their new venture is seen as a potential growth industry as well as avoid the persistent local militia determined to stamp out grave robbing.
All of these narratives are played out against Edinburgh itself and other locations in Scotland and England. Wonderful period costumes and great art direction contribute to a lush look for this film.
Pegg plays Burke as a romantic who is uncomfortable with his role as a mass murderer. Serkis simply sees murder as a justifiable means to an end – only one with a wink and a nod.
While this films shows Landis still has the chops for comedy, this often times playful treatment of a very serious subject means it’s not for everybody.