Mila Kunis

“Friends” Benefits From Its Stars Charisma

There’s usually a simple “something” about a good sex comedy.

Neither particularly sexy nor comical enough to inspire a knee-slap , “Friends with Benefits” plays up the personas of its charismatic stars instead of an all-out exploitation of their tanned and toned flesh.

I imagine if 1959’s “Pillow Talk” were made today, a film similar to “Friends with Benefits” might be the result, which certainly has “something”. But whether it possesses the same sort of playful mirth that made its sex comedy forefathers genre mainstays remains in question.

It’s now acceptable for a film to be as brash as its creators so choose. Maybe that’s why watching Doris Day and Rock Hudson dance around the realistic circus that is sexual courtship is so magical; a cinematic fantasy created behind a veil of censorship, if you will. “Friends with Benefits”, on the other hand, suffers for its overtness.

The premise is simple; Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis), two young professionals brought together through intersecting career paths, make an unusual agreement. The pair agrees to use each other for sex; they can still be friends during the day, however, as long as neither becomes emotionally invested after getting down and dirty at night.  

The resolution of the film is crystal clear. Partly because Ms. Kunis’ “Black Swan” costar Natalie Portman starred in practically the same film earlier this year (“No Strings Attached”, which initially shared this film’s title during pre-production), but also for the simple fact that “Friends with Benefits” is a romantic comedy. I mean, you have seen one of those before, right?

Writer-director Will Gluck certainly hopes so. “Friends with Benefits” is peppered with references to all sorts of popular rom-coms from the past, some that will come as immediately obvious while others will take a moment to register. Regardless, the intertextual knowledge and mockery of genre cliches on display functions as comically smug sarcasm at best. But therein also lies the problem; for every trope which is ridiculed by the protagonists another is endorsed along their journey to coupled bliss. You’d think Dylan and Jamie would be able to see what’s in store for them and bypass all the hoopla in their lives that’s so reminiscent of the romantic comedies they despise. We’ll settle for pot meeting kettle in this case, I guess.

Perhaps the satirical material would have functioned better in a more sophisticated film (think Woody Allen), then again perhaps it wouldn’t have worked as well if the films two leads didn’t have the best onscreen chemistry this side of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.  Regardless, you came to see its two stars romping around under the sheets, not a Romantic Comedy 101 lesson. There is surprisingly much left to the imagination in that department, however, although the funniest sequence in the entire film does involve a certain oral activity but takes place entirely underneath a blanket. It’s cute, but lacks the delicate balance between comical raunch and satirical punch that “Friends with Benefits” desperately fancies but never quite attains.

That’s not to say the film isn’t enjoyable. It’s a film whose appeal depends largely on the charisma of its stars, not entirely unlike a Doris Day/Rock Hudson venture of years past. If for that reason alone it shows that as a whole, this genre hasn’t evolved much, if at all, since it’s humble beginnings.

Ms. Kunis has been compared to everyone from Lucille Ball to Meg Ryan. She certainly carries the better portion of the film’s comedic weight, possessing a smoky sophistication that sets her more in line with the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Timberlake is equally enjoyable in his first comedic lead, and the audience coasts through the film thanks to their dazzling chemistry, not caring if we know exactly what’s going to happen. 

“They just play a cheesy pop song over the credits to trick you into thinking you had fun watching a terrible movie” Dylan says as Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” plays over the credits of a romantic comedy he’s watching. As that very same song plays over the credits of “Friends with Benefits”, you’ll realize this is a film that truly almost gets it. Simply referencing a problem isn’t enough to free yourself from becoming a victim of the same thing. But for now I’ll take the cheesy pop song and its persuasive effects, but only because “Friends with Benefits” isn’t exactly terrible.

Someone’s Hot For Oscar; Predicting the Academy Award Nominations

To begin this year’s Oscar predictions with continued harping over last year’s pitiful excuse for an Academy Awards ceremony would be to completely demean the conspicuously-outstanding American cinematic offerings 2010 served up. But to hell with that, I’m in the mood for bitching, and Kathryn Bigelow and Sandra Bullock still personally owe me for the distress they caused in my life around this time last year.  I’ll most likely be taking my tears and backhanded compliments elsewhere this year, particularly casting shade on what, if the Golden Globes are any indication, could potentially turn out to upset even last year’s Oscar telecast as one of the worst in the AMPAS’ longstanding (and long-respected) history.

The problem I’ve had with the Academy for quite some time now is their increasing insistence on insulting their many followers, not unlike myself, who somehow find it within themselves to hinge what is basically their entire lives on a single telecast that’s gradually making its way down from being the precipice of artistic recognition to a night full of industry favors upheld by a “we need to like you so people like us” nomination process. If last year taught us anything, it’s that giving into societal agendas and journalistic ideals of catchy headlines (First Woman Wins Best Director!) for free press has apparently turned into the Academy’s game.  I mean, absolutely no one but a casual moviegoing public who didn’t see much more than the commercially-friendly The Blind Side could possibly even begin to consider Sandy’s performance as 2009’s crowning achievement of female performances.  The fact remains that Sandra Bullock is a crowd-pleasing, widely-appealing ‘star’ and not a gifted actress. She’s an essential part of what makes Hollywood a business; she’s marketable, relatable, likeable, and just rubs America the right way in general, making it easy for the AMPAS to align themselves with her.

All bitching aside, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that this year’s race to watch out for is Supporting Actress, a category that’s generally one-sided and ultimately locked months before the nomination process even begins. No clear frontrunner has emerged amidst a group of women whose performances are as brilliant as they are ambiguously fitting for both the Lead and Supporting categories (I’m looking at you, Lesley Manfield and Hailee Steinfeld). Both could fall into either category depending on how the Academy chooses to dole out the nominations this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they give both potentials a spot in the Supporting category to make room for some powerhouse players in the Lead category (I’m thinking Moore, Kidman, Williams, and even Swank as an outside pick have a shot this year).  Amy Adams is the only definitive lock at this point, with Melissa Leo potentially creeping in as the category’s alternate. The case of Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is one that has me scratching my head a bit; Her work in the film clearly pales in comparison to what she’ll potentially be up against, seeing as she’s the obligatory “let’s fit the seeming frontrunner into as many categories as possible to up its tally” acting nomination this year. Her’s is neither a girthy or substantial role at all with literally not much for her to work with. A sufficient turn, but nothing Oscar-worthy. I do love me some sweet lips, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like her role is one which is enhanced by  the atmospherics and diegetic emphasis placed upon it, not necessarily by the output of Kunis herself. It’s a role anyone would have been nominated for if they were casted in it simply because of the containing film’s momentum going into the nominations, it just so happens Mila was lucky enough to get it. You can’t forget about Helena Bonham Carter either, although something’s telling me she could be the surprise snub (although rightfully so) of the Awards this year.


Keeping up with the ladies of 2010, Lead Actress should prove no less exciting than Supporting Actress will be. Annette Bening and Natalie Portman have been locks for months now, and not a thing will change that by come tomorrow morning. I’m confident in placing Kidman as the third in line as of right now, with Moore trailing just behind her. The fifth spot, however, is a complete toss-up. It’s hard to say who exactly would “fit” in with the typical awards season momentum going into the nominations (seeing as not one other performance has consistently garnered accolades across the circuit), but at this point I’m most inclined to say Michelle Williams (interchangeable with Lesley Manville or Steinfeld, if one or both are not placed in Supporting, with Moore as the other alternate here as well) is the likely holder of the fifth spot. I’d be entirely unsurprised if Jennifer Lawrence or even Hilary Swank made their way past Williams despite their earlier-in-the-year releases losing the majority of the buzz they’d garnered. This fifth spot becomes entirely crucial to Portman’s road to a win on Oscar night as well, seeing as a win is most likely for her if both Leading Ladies from The Kids are All Right snag spots (Bening is a lock, Moore is up in the air) as the Academy could likely split if this is the scenario.

The men’s race has been pretty low-key this year, seeing as veteran mainstays (Jeff Bridges, Robert DuVall) each gave expert turns in crucially-timed-and-released pictures that pandered directly to Oscar voters. James Franco is likely to sneak into the fifth spot based on the director’s namesake on his performance’s containing film alone, trailing just behind Jesse Eisenberg and Colin Firth for their respective turns in Lead roles. Supporting male is, for the second year in a row, the least enticing of all the acting categories this year. Christian Bale obviously leads the pack in terms of buzz coming off of his crucial win at the Globes, and putting your money on Geoffrey Rush as a potential nominee wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The rest of the slots are a complete toss-up, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who could potentially fill the rest of the slots, ranging anywhere from Jeremy Renner in The Town to even Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Director should also prove to be an interesting race albeit a tad predictable in terms of the nominations. I can’t see anyone other than Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan even coming close to snagging a nomination slot aside from the slight chance that The Coen’s might edge out Russell.


The now-all-inclusive Best Picture race is proving to be a tad more exciting than last year’s as well, with about 11 or 12 of the year’s best films all realistically vying for the coveted 10 slots. Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, and True Grit are all definitive locks and that’s no surprise to anyone; it’s the remaining 3 slots that have me stumped. I can absolutely see the Academy pandering to the Indie crowd they sort of drastically alienated over the past two years and giving both Another Year and Blue Valentine (I can dream, can’t I?) some love, and placing Inception atop the package as a finishing touch to please the masses. A long outside guess has me thinking The Town or 127 Hours could sneak in there as well.

But if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the AMPAS are growing increasingly more liberal with their classification choices in many major categories (ahem, going as far as to consider Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader as Leading and placing The Blind Side alongside Precious and An Education in the Best Picture category) and that’s ultimately what I think this year’s major categories will come down to as well; how the Academy decided to classify certain performances over others. But I can’t say I’ll be surprised at any of what unfolds tomorrow morning, just elated that neither Kathryn Bigelow, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Winslet will be  without cause for celebration come 5:30 AM.


Best Picture

Black Swan

The King’s Speech

The Fighter


The Kids Are All Right

The Social Network

True Grit


Blue Valentine

Toy Story 3

Outside Shots: Shutter Island, Another Year, Winter’s Bone

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

Outside Shots: Hilary Swank Conviction, Jennifer Lawrence Winter’s Bone, Hailee Steinfeld True Grit

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Robert DuVall, Get Low

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

Outside Shots: James Franco 127 Hours


Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, The Figther

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Mila Kunis, Black Swan

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Outside Shots: Lesley Manville, Another Year

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, The Fighter

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network

Jeremy Renner, The Town

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Christopher Nolan, Inception

David O. Russell, The Fighter

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

David Fincher, The Social Network

Outside Shots: Mike Leigh Another Year, Martin Scorcese Shutter Island, The Coen Brothers True Grit