Believable Characters? 'Friends With Benefits' Tops 'No Strings Attached'
When previews for Friends With Benefits began showing in theaters, everyone automatically assumed it was going to be the exact same movie as No Strings Attached. Though the premises are quite similar (both movies try to prove that it’s impossible to have casual sex without generating feelings for your partner), their trajectories to realizing that cruel fact of life are completely different.
Even though these films hand over social commentary about the current generation's dating habits, they’re also about who can do a better job of depicting the perfect friends with benefits relationship. Like any good Hollywood film, the director wants you to leave the film wishing you were those two star-crossed lovers on screen. So it’s not about being believable, it’s about being enjoyable, which is why the over-the-top fairy-tale theme in Friends With Benefits wins over No Strings Attached. Don’t freak out. Just listen.
First off, in what world do Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman make sense as a couple? Not only do their acting reputations clash, but since when does the highly intelligent doctor-in-training fall in love with the frat guy? Strictly sleeping together is believable, but what happens when the MIT graduate actually wants to have an intellectual conversation with her beer-for-brains boyfriend? There is a reason that this movie was called No Strings Attached and not friends with benefits, because there is no basis for their relationship. Ashton Kutcher’s character initially searches for casual sex to forget about the fact that his father is dating his ex-girlfriend, which isn’t a healthy reason to start a physical relationship with someone. This also isn’t the first time in the movie that Kutcher’s character turns to Portman’s over familial struggles.
No Strings Attached mocks using sex to cure your loneliness and avoid being vulnerable, which is the perfect recipe for falling in love. Not having strings attached to a relationship should mean having sex with a stranger, someone you barely even know. You don’t mingle with their friends, you don’t see them in public, you don’t invite them to dinner with your dad and you especially don’t go within 100 miles of them while they have their period, let alone make a “Period Mix-Tape” for them. The relationship is doomed from the get-go and every time either Kutcher or Portman try to emphasize the fact that they’re “just friends” having sex they look even dumber. Not to mention how hard Portman tries to be emotionless about the whole situation, yet freaks out about it every other scene. I know this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but if someone is really trying to start having casual sex with no strings attached they’re better off calling a prostitute.
Friends With Benefits has a more tongue-in-cheek attitude towards two friends trying to have casual sex. Forget about the flashmobs for a second. This is the way a friends with benefits relationship should be perceived whether or not one person ends up falling in love with the other. Unfortunately only specific personality types can elicit that kind of attitude. Mila Kunis’ character's quick-witted speech and Justin Timberlake’s shamelessness make having casual sex with a friend look like a blast, not an emotional mess.
Before they begin having sex they have some kind of friendship even if it’s not fully developed. From the onset there is an apparent comfort between them that is not present in No Strings Attached. In addition, neither of them have an ulterior motive for having sex. The healthiness behind their intentions tricks you into thinking that it could possibly work, despite Kunis being infected by the fairy tale ending virus.
The aspect of this relationship that is most admirable is their complete and total honesty with each other about their quirks in the bedroom. However, it’s that comfort and openness with another person that inevitably bonds two people deeper than physical attraction, whether or not one of them realizes. That openness replaces any kind of romantic gestures one might do for the other. Timberlake never tries to be Kunis’ Prince Charming, so even when he brings her home to his family, emphasizing that they’re “just friends” doesn’t feel contrived.
Unlike in NSA, in FWB there is no animosity, jealousy or hard real sadness, until Timberlake has to defend their relationship to his sister and Kunis overhears him calling her crazy. Sadly, I think the directors are forced to steer the film in that direction for the sake of the romantic comedy standards, but up until that point Kunis and Timberlake really could have been great friends with benefits, not that they resemble any real life friends with benefits stories I’ve ever heard of. Nevertheless, it would be great if twenty-somethings actually interacted like that with each other instead of masking their feelings with beer goggles.