Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Friends with Benefits": Justin Randall Timberlake comes of age, and softens

Friends with Benefits” (director Will Gluck) does something interesting:  It takes the dark, autumnal but crisp world of social satire in “The Social Network”  and the same sorts of appealing young (and sometimes older) adult characters and turns into a garish, Cinemascope situation comedy of the kind Fox liked to produce in the late 50s.  The distributing company, Screen Gems (I still wonder how Sony decides how to brand its movies, as it used its Classics brand for Woody Allen’s recent comedy) has its distinctive trademark morph into a position on a web page, which star Justin Randall Timberlake, playing “Dylan”,  a sales manager at GQ, moves off the page with his finger to start the comedy.

The movie works. A full house at the AMC Tysons Corner clapped at the end for the late show last night.

The “story” is like that of many other romantic comedies. Dylan meets Jamie, a headhunter (Mila Kunis) and pretty soon is testing the scope of “friendship”.  That was an issue for me in NYC in the 1970s in the gay world, as people would say, “I want friendship with you” but not more.  Such is the lot of the less attractive.

The world around Dylan and Jamie is populated with interesting people, maybe from the world of David Fincher. In the opening sequence Jamie  alternates in talking to Dylan with another character Quincy, who is obviously based on the “socially awkard” Mark Zuckerberg as played by Andy Samberg (remember Samberg’s impersonation on SNL in the “battle of the Bergs”).  No Jessie Eisenberg is nowhere to be seen, but pretty soon there is a scene under the Brooklyn Bridge, from the BargeMusic  boat (where I recently went to a concert) where Shaun White shows up playing himself, although he is not as nice as he is in his Amex ads or in the film “First Descent”, where is closer to his real nice self). I sat watching and wondering if the NYC “gang of 6” classical composers would show up as characters.

Woody Harrelson plays an older gay man Tommy who  (after giving the mandatory lines about immutability) gives people rides across the Hudson in his private speedboat (what a way to take tricks home from Julius’s and Ty’s and have the privilege of living in Jersey, as if US 46 were another Sunset Strip), and who captures the behavior of the straight people in the movie as an extension of his own world.

As for Justin Timberlake: First, I went to an ‘Nsync  performance at the Metrodome in June 2001. At the time, he looked like the heterosexual music world’s most virile representative. But time and makeup have taken their tolls.  (My Army buddies would have said to him, “you’re losing hormones.”) He did those ugly tattoos (out of sight in this movie – he has to wear socks in the bedroom scenes).  Then he had the bushy hair standing up from his forearms reduced, and I don’t know how (technically, this film is inconsistent in that area).  And Jamie seems to love stripping off his shirt to his chest (she doesn’t even need the preparation of disco dirty dancing), which seems to have been almost completely smooth (particularly compared to how Justin had looked as Sean Parker getting out of bed in "The Social Network" just last fall).  Writer David Skinner’s notorious article “Notes on the Hairless Man” from the conservative Weekly Standard in 1999 seems well demonstrated.  At one point, Dylan mentions leg shaving, but never carries out the threat.  Ashton Kutcher (“Aplusk” on twitter) had weighed in on all this on YouTube after what happened to him when he made “Killers” for Lionsgate because of the appearance of his stunt double.  Kutcher says “the hair will come back”, as has Jim Carry.  Remember, though, that Zachary Levi “got it” to be in Screen Gems’s own “Weiners”.

The movie has spectacular wide shots of both NY and LA, some of them quite original. 

The one place where the movie turns darker is toward the end of the LA episode, where Dylan has to protect his Dad (Richard Jenkins) who is sliding into dementia. Dylan insists that his Dad is still the same person that he had been.  But just barely. 

Here is the official site

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