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Monday Movies Can Sing Some Third Eye Blind

Friends with Benefits is a fantastic romantic comedy. Its director, Will Gluck, already impressed Monday Movies with Easy A, and his command of brisk banter is in full view, allowing the movie to feel nimble without making the leads frenetic. Those leads, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, are pure pleasure; is it any surprise to anyone by this point that Justin Timberlake can hold down a romantic comedy lead, after his winning appearances in everything from (the otherwise not-winning) Southland Tales to Saturday Night Live? Timberlake’s physicality is on display, but he’s using it more as a ballroom dancer than as a stadium tour spotlight magnet — he can sink back into a scene and show Kunis off, or he can push against her as her own energy rises. Their sex scenes are funny the way sex can be funny, erotic without sacrificing warmth, satiric without sacrificing realness.

To set off its premise, the movie employs a romcom-within-a-romcom. It stars Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, uses L.A.’s Union Station as a poorly costumed Grand Central, and features sappy, meaningless catchphrases like “I guess New York is all out of blueberries.” There’s a merry bit of bad faith in the tweaking, as Friends with Benefits checks off all the regulation beats in order, including a fun variation on the chase-to-the-airport trope that almost justifies Woody Harrelson’s bizarre gay sports editor character. The moments where the movie feels thinnest are when it lands square on those beats — the conversation that leads to their sexual arrangement feels a little mechanical, and their first scene of unguarded sexual tenderness comes under a thick layer of soundtrack strings. But in between the beats, their conversations are deep and real; the movie works because the main characters are two attractive, hurting people who deeply want to jump one another’s bones and figure themselves out.

The supporting cast is excellent too — even bizarre gay Woody Harrelson won me over. Emma Stone and Andy Samberg have fun cameos. Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’s mom is an adorable, daffy unreconstructed sybarite. In a subplot that could have just been another piece of machinery, Richard Jenkins plays Timberlake’s father, losing his mind to an Alzheimer’s fog. There’s a moment of romantic advice that in another movie would have been a pro forma thumbsucker, but which Jenkins invests with blazing anger, the mark of a dedicated actor and a supporting part written from within a whole other feature of its own.

Mrs. K-sky and I watched Clueless as part of her remedial teen girl classics series, which has included Bring It On and has yet to get to Mean Girls and Legally Blonde (ok Elle Woods is not a teenager but still). It holds up well, but I wasn’t as riveted by it as I was the first time; there’s something about the Jane Austen plot that felt a little constricting, as if in a second draft the same characters and milieu could have found something even more fun. I realize that is the exact opposite of how you are supposed to watch Clueless, but still. Maybe I should watch the TV show to be disabused of this notion.

One aspect of the Austen plot that comes of as odd and sweet is the movie’s treatment of sex. Alicia Silverstone, button-cute, plays virgin (who can’t drive) Cher. Her friend Dionne has sex with her boyfriend; her “project” Tai (Brittany Murphy) has had it once, but Cher is saving herself for the right guy. Her explorations are sweetly circumscribed and safe, in a way that proves a weird mix of contemporary and Austen-era — the two men who compete for her, as it were, are either (spoilers!) gay or strangely close to home.

Writer-director Amy Heckerling, the kind of true Hollywood figure who after Fast Times at Ridgemont High you want to say you’ll see everything she ever does but then you look at IMDB and find Look Who’s Talking, is firing on all cylinders here. One of the great things about the movie is the background detail. For example, there’s an expanding roster of girls with noses in post-plastic-surgery bandages just filling out the frame, never commented on, hardly even given so much as a foreground.

This also has a great supporting cast, well used: Six Feet Under‘s Jeremy Sisto, Scrubs‘s Donald Faison, MTV’s non-Downtown Julie Brown, Breckin Meyer, Wallace Shawn, and Dan Hedaya are all hanging out and chipping in. Whatever my reservations, this one stays in the curriculum.

I loved Bridesmaids. Like Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, it lacked the touch of a cold-blooded editor, but where Knocked Up was saggy, Bridesmaids was pleasantly shaggy. All of the characters were rich, allowing for a long run of permutations. Rose Byrne was great as perfect-and-rich Helen, Annie’s nemesis. I loved how as their conflict heated up, my sympathy rose for Helen and fell for Annie. It’s a confident script that doesn’t need thumbs on the scales.

Kristen Wiig’s Annie is a thwarted striver, a figure we don’t see played by women that much. I pegged her for a 3 on the enneagram, though I’m still mulling it over. How ’bout you?

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August 8, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , ,

8 Comments

  1. 8/01/11 – Tanin no kao – Teshigahara 1966 8/10 superb Kobe Abe weirdness

    8/02/11 – What Did the Lady Forget? – Ozu 1937 7/10;this time I noticed the Hawaiian music, a mockable upper-class interest at the time

    8/03/11 – The Town – Affleck 6/10
    I kept thinking:”Move the camera back 10 feet. 5 Feet”. I just can’t stand having faces constantly in my face anymore, with no context or environment. I can’t watch American movies

    8/04/11 – Red Peony Gambler – Kosaku Yamashita 1968 8/10 for its genre, Meiji Yakuza, tightly scripted and directed. Ken Takakura is very limited and very charismatic, but the series (there were 8 RPG) star was Sumiko/Junko Fuji.

    8/05/11 – ??? – I don’t remember – recent
    After the S&P downgrade, I needed fluff, and found a Bill Nighy comedy about a hitman (Nighy), the target he falls in love with (Emily Blunt), his doper apprentice shooter (Rupert Gint), and his remorseless nemesis (Rupert Everett). Good fluff. 7/10

    8/06/11 – Chungking Express – Wong Kar Wai 1994 10/10
    8/07/11 – Chungking Express – Tony Rayns commentary, too much about substance not enough about technique
    What can I say, a contender for my top ten all-time in my current mood; maybe I’m shallow
    Fast, busy, quick edits, innovative, depth of field and theme, pace and rhythm changes, visual echoes, cinematic more than verbal, post-modern, very 90s, romantic and sexy as hell, great fun and funny
    Spontaneous, intuitive (shot in 3 months during post of Ashes of Time almost as lark or relief), extremely collaborative (Chris Doyle cine; William Chang art direction and editing;actors improv’ing)
    I like this better than Mood for Love, but ItMfL is about exhaustion, despair, and being trapped, and was created in conditions (shot once in HK, once in Bangkok, multiple multiple takes) that would create off-screen what was on-screen
    CE is about young people and the energy of trying on identities, off-screen and on-screen;you can feel the energy and ambition;romantic in multiple senses

    8/07/11 – Le Million – Rene Clair 1931 8/10;Well, never seen anything like this before. Technique and style is closer to silent, but this is a musical comedy. Perhaps a decent comparison is to Lubitsch or Mamoulian, but proletarian rather than petite bourgeois; or a sweeter, simpler, more humanistic Marx Bros

    Comment by bob mcmanus | August 8, 2011

  2. My wife and I went with the couple we usually go to see movies with to see the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was glad to see they took care to explain how the ape’s takeover of Earth came to be. After all, I guess I could understand intelligent apes overpowering the SFPD. The idea, however, of a worldwide war in which apes came out on top despite humans vastly outnumbering them and having possession of things like automatic weapons and missiles was going to take some ‘splaining. In addition to them satisfactorily handling this matter, the story was good. I suppose it’s fitting they wrote a better story for the apes than the humans.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | August 8, 2011

  3. i watched “a 100 days after childhood” on youtube, a very funny and serious movie, very soviet and romantic, highly recommend it

    Comment by read | August 8, 2011

  4. I confess (what?) that I dreamt that I had gravely offended jms, either at, or somehow involving, a restaurant (in the dream, I knew the reason; it’s only in real life that I can’t recall it).

    Comment by ben | August 8, 2011

  5. As far as I recall, the only movie we watched this week was “Gossip.” (Aside from the chunk of “Pineapple Express” up to the point where Saul tells Dale that he is glad he dipped his pen in his ink.) We only watched “Gossip” because it had (new) Sarah Connor/Cersei Lannister and Pacey. Turned out it also had Admiral Adama, who was quite funny–in the context of the movie, at least, which was certainly not funny. It also wasn’t any good. I didn’t really “get” it and it looks like a lot of people “reviewing” the movie on IMDB didn’t either. The IMDB reviews amount to wondering whether there are hundreds of joke reviews (“this is the best movie ever!”) or if there really are that many complete fucking idiots who “review” movies on that site. One of my favourite IMDB reviews reads as follows: “the ending was the best ending i have ever seen! i never guessed that something like that would happen!it’s definitely worth the money to see it! it’s like my favorite movie now! i don’t think there was one bad thing about it!” I think that sums it up–idiot or joke?

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | August 8, 2011

  6. I went a whole other week without seeing anything by Lars von Trier. Looking forward to Planet of the Apes – if ever a prequel was in order it was this one. Maybe somebody should make a prequel to Planet of the Bankers or at least a finequel to Fast & Furious: I propose “The Last Fast”.

    Comment by Guido Nius | August 8, 2011

  7. 4. I forgive you, and invite you to gravely offend me either at, or somehow involving, a restaurant, in real life.

    Comment by jms | August 8, 2011

  8. I can’t wait to.

    Comment by ben | August 8, 2011


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