109 minutes

At a moment when romantic comedies seem to be a dime a dozen and most of them turn out to not be worth even that dime, here comes one that actually returns the genre its good name. What's more, Friends with Benefits does so shortly after Ivan Reitman's amiable No Strings Attached exploited the same premise with generally good results. Junior league director Will Gluck's third feature, though, towers above its predecessor in practically every respect, starting with the on-screen chemistry of former boy-band singer Justin Timberlake and Black Swan revelation Mila Kunis. He is L. A. art director Dylan and she is Jamie, the New York headhunter who convinces him to move to the Big Apple to work for GQ. Both are commitment-phobes scarred by family issues, both enjoy each other's company enormously, both agree to extend it into a carefree sexual relationship, even though it's obvious to everyone but themselves that they're the perfect couple.

     Mr. Timberlake, growing into his own as a fine actor with every new project, and ms. Kunis, finally finding her breakthrough rule, literally bounce off each other, making the most off the smart, wise-cracking dialogue. Moreover, mr. Gluck actually knows how to grasp the essential lightness of touch that makes a good romantic comedy, taking a leaf from the Hollywood genre rulebook (there's a nod to It Happened One Night, but thankfully the ambition is only to follow on its footsteps, not to be as good as it). The smartest element in the script by Keith Merryman, David Newman and mr. Gluck is actually its playful way with that formula, as it has tons of fun keeping up a running commentary on the rules to which it faithfully adheres. Factor in stellar work from a first-rate supporting cast (Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's ditzy mother; Jenna Elfman as Dylan's pragmatic sister; Woody Harrelson as a gay sportswriter; and the ever reliable Richard Jenkins as Dylan's debilitated father) and you have a romantic comedy like they're not doing them anymore.

Starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Nolan Gould; with Richard Jenkins; and Woody Harrelson.
     Directed by Will Gluck; produced by Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer, Jerry Zucker, Janet Zucker, mr. Gluck; screenplay by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and mr. Gluck, based on a story by Harley Peyton, mr. Merryman and mr. Newman; director of photography (colour, prints by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen), Michael Grady; production designer, Marcia Hinds; costume designer, Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; film editor, Tia Nolan.
     A Screen Gems presentation of a Castle Rock Entertainment/Zucker Productions/Olive Bridge Entertainment production. (US distributor and world sales, Sony Pictures Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), August 17th 2011.


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