No Strings Attached & Friends With Benefits (2011)

the characters, getting dressed in a bedroom and smiling at each other.Friends with benefits poster.jpgIn cinema, there are often years when two seemingly identical films released. They can share the same basic premise, like last years 'White House under attack' two-hander of Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, or they can share something as simple as a main character, like this years two Hercules films. It's an unfortunate coincidence, but has occurred more frequently in recent years. For that reason, I have to decided to combine my thoughts on 2011's two "Friends having sex" films into one review.

Director: Ivan Reitman                                       Director: Will Gluck
Running Time: 108 mins                                  Running Time: 109 mins
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman         Starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis

Both films focus on two friends who decide to have sex with each other, under the promise there will be no complications and it will remain just sex. Naturally, things get complicated as the friends develop feelings for one another.

At an initial glance, it would seem there is not much to distinguish between the two films, but the biggest difference lies with the cast. No Strings Attached has Adam and Emma, played by Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. But between the much deserved Oscar winner and the star of That 70's Show, the two lack a chemistry which would have gone a long way towards selling this romance. Neither seem to try to elevate their performances above being anything but bland, and the film suffers for it.

Compared with the Friends With Benefits' own Dylan and Jamie, played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, there is a noticeable difference. They share a natural chemistry which is a joy to watch, and feels as if it's reflected by a real life friendship the actors could share. In short, its everything Kutcher and Portman failed to bring to screen.

While Friends With Benefits may be enslaved to generic plotting that can be seen in any typical rom-com, things at least are elevated by a sly poking at the notable clichés which inhabit the genre. There is also a subplot involving Dylan's Alzheimers stricken father, strongly played by the ever-reliable Richard Jenkins. What could have come off as awkward and emotionally manipulative is handled well in this witty script, doing a good job of hitting the emotional moments.

This is more than can be said for No Strings Attached, which suffers from a poor script. For a comedy, it's shameful how laugh-free the proceedings actually are, and no cute 'Period Mix' CDs can make up for that. But what lets things down even more is the poor characterization. Emma constantly makes claims about how she doesn't want a relationship, but then comes over to Adam's place out of jealousy, and proclaims to his ex how she would not pick any other man over him. She's a character all over the place who constantly sends mixed signals, and it's a chore to remain in her company. Even the main characters father is poorly handled, questionably choosing to repeatedly date his son's ex rather than find somebody he hasn't dated.

Friends With Benefits is everything No Strings Attached fails to be, bringing the laughs, clear character motivations, good performances and proving to be a better investment of your time.