More often than not, the universe collides in a multimedia fashion. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but what happens when two scientific discoveries or two identical babies or two movies that are alike happen simultaneously? There's always the “I created this, and you didn't” battle, but when they come out together, it's a collective unconscious, Carl Jung moment that is just weird. Clearly, one of these things has to be stronger or superior to the other one. Or one eats the other and the strongest survives—no babies, please don't try this at home! Someone makes a movie at almost the exact same time as someone else with eerily similar plotlines. The Prestige came out around the same time as The Illusionist. Both were released in 2006, and both were about magicians. Don't believe me? Check out the below films that were the same year and the same subject.
The Thin Red Line vs. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Red Planet and Mission to Mars (2000)
Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998)
The Haunting (of Hill House) vs. House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Admittedly, the last one is actually just one movie to see if you were paying attention, but you get my point. The list is pretty long, so I won't continue, and there's a number of sites that go into more depth about this strange phenomenon. One of the comments online where I was researching these movies (in addition to the always-superb Internet Movie Database) said that in the case of the Haunting/Haunted movie that even cast members were getting confused and showing up to the wrong set.
At this juncture, I will digress to my point which is that while this is an ongoing theme in the filmmaking world (and seriously, there are only so many plotlines you can come up with and some are just hot at the time. Vampires, anyone?), it has happened again.
Friends With Benefits is a movie about two buddies (Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) who decide to have a bedroom playtime only relationship. No emotions, just physicality. Not disimilar to Outback's catchphrase “no rules, just right.” It came out the same year as Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's movie No Strings Attached.
The movie industry must have decided it's time to address this issue that even has made the papers and has had parents of adolescents fretting around the country. Not only do they have to worry about their kids having sex now, they have an even harder time of convincing them to hold out for love. Therefore, the industry almost has a bet. “Okay, I'll put Kunis and Timberlake in a movie and you put Kutcher and Portman together. Whoever gets the bigger audience wins. Deal.”
This was ridiculously confusing for my husband and I. Why? Well, one of N'Sync's album was called No Strings Attached. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher were an onscreen couple on That 70's Show. We figured we'd see one of them, but not the other. So, we took a chance.
Justin Timberlake, famous for his role in The Social Network and the 1990's boy band N'Sync, is teamed up with That 70's Show and Forgetting Sarah Marshall star Mila Kunis. Dylan is a workaholic who doesn't have time for love and can't commit. Jamie is emotionally damaged and the two of them have both recently been dumped. Together, they both miss sex. Idea bubble!
The combination of acting, directing, and a snappy, witty, well-written script went a long way. Of course, there are famous names, and Justin Timberlake sings in a couple of scenes which make for a memorable trailer and, as it turns out, an excellent movie. The celebrity cameos were good, and Kunis and Timberlake's onscreen chemistry was fantastic. We were more impressed than we imagined we'd be, and within the first five minutes it soared above the rest of the movies we'd seen all weekend. Now, there is the matter of nudity, but thankfully, although there's a lot of butts, nobody goes full frontal. I still would advise against seeing it with any of your relatives, but it is a hilarious and amusing few hours.
My absolute favorite thing about the movie was how at times it was so heartwarming and touching that you forgot about the fact that these two people are in a movie with silly, complicating factors like love and intimacy. Especially some of the family scenes. The film openly criticizes romantic comedies in general for what they are--tearing at the purses and emotional heartstrings of their target audience (women) without feeling accountable for making something of substance. That makes the movie more than "just another romantic comedy," not to the point of transcending the genre, but encourages the audience to expect more from their films than "just another thing to do on the weekends."
As for No Strings Attached (yes, that's the one we didn't see, the one with Portman and Kutcher), we decided that based on how much we liked Friends with Benefits that the one we'd watched was superior. Someday, I'll probably get around to watching it as a reference point. Until then, I'd say if you're going for a romantic comedy, see this and not Bad Teacher.