Entertainment & Arts

Friends With Benefits: a new generation of rom-com

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in Friends with Benefits
Image caption Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake try a 'no strings' relationship in Friends With Benefits

Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again. Romantic comedies usually follow a tried-and-tested formula. But not this one.

In Friends With Benefits, stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis' poke fun at a genre loaded with cliches.

Director Will Gluck decided he wanted to update the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy comedies of Hollywood's past, so he set about creating a banter-filled script for today's generation.

The film follows New York head-hunter Jamie (Kunis) and art director Dylan (Timberlake), who is invited over from Los Angeles to take up a job at a men's magazine.

The pair soon become friends, and united by their belief that romance doesn't exist, they make a pact - sworn on an iBible app - to embark on a relationship based purely on sex.

Could it ever work?

"I wanted a fresh take on these type of movies; to make one you haven't seen before," says Gluck, whose previous feature films include Easy A and Fired Up!.

Image caption Timberlake said the film was more of a 'romp' than a 'romantic comedy'

"We all want to go out and fall in love - that's very cliched - but I think you can play with situations that are cliched, as long as you comment on the fact.

"Every time Dylan and Jamie get to a moment in their relationship that seems familiar, the character comments on it," explains Gluck.

"I walked the line between that and reality."

The director even created a fictional rom-com movie within the film, which Jamie and Dylan watch repeatedly to poke fun at the genre.

Complete with meetings at New York's Grand Central Station and horse-driven carriages in Central Park, the fictional film also features Gluck's pet peeve: the wacky best friend.

"Female characters typically have a best friend whose only job in the movie is to support the main character, someone who has no life and is usually frumpy. That character really drives me crazy," he says.

In this film Patricia Clarkson, playing Jamie's mother, and Woody Harrelson, as Dylan's gay co-worker, provide the support and light-relief.

The on-screen chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis is undeniable - so much so, it was rumoured they became an item off-screen.

"That's a lot of visual effects and medication," jokes Gluck. "We gave them shots of chemistry before every take and then it wore off at the end of the day!"

But, on a serious note, the director says he thought he "hit the lottery" with his lead actors - whom he had always envisioned in the roles of Dylan and Jamie.

"I really couldn't see doing this movie with anyone else," says Gluck.

"We had two months to workshop the movie and everyone put in their own sense of humour," says Kunis.

"As it turns out, we all had the same potty sense of humour."

Sex appeal

The evolution of the rom-com to include more sex, swearing and frank talking is a growing trend.

Examples in the past year include No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, and the long-distance relationship film Going the Distance, with Drew Barrymore.

Image caption Director Will Gluck (right) said he always envisioned Timberlake and Kunis in the roles of Dylan and Jamie

Such films are released with a restricted 'R' rating in the US - where those under 17 need an adult with them to see it - as opposed to the traditional 'PG-13', which allows entry to any age.

Was that for the benefit of male cinema-goers, who wouldn't usually be caught dead at a romantic comedy?

"We were all very conscious of making it funny for guys when we made this movie," Gluck says.

"But it's also very sexy - if you want to see sexy - from Mila."

Timberlake adds: "I don't think I'm the typical demographic for a rom-com, but we were really trying to make a comedy.

"[Mila and I] wanted to make a movie that we would both go see - it's more of a romp to us than a romantic comedy."

Gluck jokes that what he really wanted was for those people who saw the film "with a significant other" to have "a very good chance of relations that night".

"So if you want a good chance of getting lucky go see this movie. If you don't, go see Captain America."

Timberlake responds: "I can't say I disagree with that statement."

And Kunis adds: "Our movie is like a little aphrodisiac."

Friends With Benefits opens in UK cinemas from 9 September.

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