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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.