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“Friends With Benefits,” reviewed

“Friends With Benefits,” reviewed (photo)

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The characters in the romantic comedy “Friends With Benefits” like to watch romantic comedies. Well, technically they don’t really seem to like them all that much. Mostly they like to complain about them, and anyone who’s endured a bad romantic comedy in the last few years will recognize their issues: they’re lame, tedious, and above all, inauthentic. The people aren’t real, their problems aren’t real, their dialogue isn’t real, and they’re invariably hanging out in a tax-break-offering approximation of whatever city they’re supposed to live in.

But despite her frustration with the genre, Jamie (Mila Kunis) keeps watching rom-coms. So do a lot of us, in the hope that once in a while we’ll get a good one like “Friends With Benefits.” True, the film doesn’t quite live up its own ideals; though it actively campaigns against artificiality in romantic comedies, it isn’t always a model of verite filmmaking. Jamie meets her man Dylan (Justin Timberlake) in a classic (i.e. illogical and forced) rom-com meet cute and many of the other cliches of the genre are trotted out, albeit with a little less dust and a little more self-referentiality. The movie definitely has its cake and eats it too. But when that cake is filled with the sweetness of Timberlake and Kunis and tart grace notes from an excellent supporting cast that includes Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins, you don’t mind eating a slice or two.

Jamie is a corporate head-hunter who recruits Dylan from his gig at a popular Los Angeles blog to move to New York City to work as the art director of GQ magazine. They’ve both just been dumped by their significant others but Dylan is still a little skeptical about uprooting his whole life. He shouldn’t be, though, since the art director of GQ apparently makes enough money to afford an amazing pre-furnished one bedroom apartment in Manhattan that would go for at least $3,000 a month (a flourishing magazine industry with lots of available and insanely lucrative jobs? Like I was saying: not as authentic as advertised).

After a charming nighttime tour of New York City’s sights with Jamie, Dylan decides to take the job. Once he moves east, the two strike up a friendship and then, one night after watching a particularly wretched romantic comedy, they decide to test the boundaries of that friendship by adding sex into the mix. Just sex, though, without its typical requisite emotional entanglements. After swearing on a iPad Bible app, they dive into bed for a series of love scenes that are refreshingly filthy, at least by the standards of mainstream Hollywood comedies. While the movie hews much closer to the rules of romantic comedies than it would like to admit, its stars have have honest-to-God movie star chemistry together, and their scenes sparkle with warmth, humor, and sex appeal. Even if the movie around them is less real than it aspires to be, the connection between the two leads feels totally genuine.

The director and co-writer of the film is Will Gluck, whose last film, “Easy A,” was one of the best mainstream comedies in years. “Friends With Benefits” isn’t quite up to that level — not as clever, not as well-written, and a whole lot more predictable — but it’s an utterly charming date night movie. Gluck’s got an obvious rapport with actors and he never makes the mistake that a lot of bad rom-com directors do: talking down to his audience. He’s also got an unappreciated knack for portraying child-parent relationships onscreen. A lot of the best stuff in “Easy A” was between Emma Stone’s Olive and her mom and dad, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. Clarkson returns here as Kunis’ man-hungry single mom, and steals every scene she’s in (not an easy task, given the intense wattage of the star she’s stealing from). Best of all is Richard Jenkins, who has an even smaller and even more powerful role as Dylan’s ill father. His moments with Timberlake, particularly one in an airport, are so sad and moving they probably belongs in another, more serious movie. But they’re so damn good, I’m glad they found their way into this one.

Then again, maybe they do belong in “Friends With Benefits.” Jenkins’ parts are as close as the movie gets to being a romantic comedy that truly breaks the rules of romantic comedies. The movie ends with a big dramatic movieish confrontation in a major New York City landmark, and though it’s couched as a critique of a similar scene in a bad rom-com, it’s still pretty clearly a fantasy.

Maybe verisimilitude isn’t what we want from rom-coms after all. Jamie may not like these movies, but she watches them anyway, even wishing on more than one occasion that that her life was like a movie. Perhaps we don’t need authentic rom-coms, just better ones, with more attention to detail, more charismatic stars, and smarter characters that give us the feeling, if not the reality, of being in love.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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