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Posted at 12:59 PM ET, 07/22/2011

Friends with Benefits? It’s too complicated!


I think this is a scene from Friends With Benefits, but these things blur together... (Dale Robinette)
In case you'd forgotten what it sounded like when other people wrote things, here's a perspective from my colleague Lisa Bonos, as part of a two-part Friends-With-Benefits-themed Friday! My take follows!

-Alexandra Petri

It’s Too Complicated

Have you seen the movie about two platonic friends who decide to get physical without getting emotional? "Wait, which one?" you ask.

Well, there’s “Friends With Benefits,” opening today, which pairs Mila Kunis with Justin Timberlake, but you could be forgiven for thinking of “No Strings Attached,” which hit theaters a mere six months ago and cast Natalie Portman in bed with Ashton Kutcher.

In case you haven’t had enough — on the big screen or in your own life — NBC is unveiling its own “Friends With Benefits” sitcom next month.

It’s no secret that Hollywood loves the romantic comedy. And let’s be honest, so do I. But why the obsession with the “friends with benefits” arrangement? Well, for one thing they’re just feeding off a zeitgeist that viewers/consumers have helped create.

It’s as if Hollywood has tapped into our inner-psyches and knows that after about six months of celibacy, even the closest “platonic” friend, or the most cliche rom-com, suddenly starts looking attractive. Filmmakers reckon that we can be enticed to see a movie we’ve seen — and lived — before. We know how the deja delusional storyline ends: Strings be damned, someone gets attached. Try as we might to resist mistakes we’ve made before, fashion a somewhat funny two-minute trailer and a good portion of us hopeless romantics will be hooked.

Back in real life, we may scoff at our parents, and the media, for labeling us the Hookup Generation. “Hey, we do get married!” we scream. “Haven’t you seen ‘Bridesmaids’?”

Caution us against running toward romantic red flags and define us by these undefined relationships — perhaps another symptom of not wanting to grow up! — and we’ll quote a defining mid-’90s rom-com from our youth: “As if!

“Friends sleep together all the time without getting attached,” we reason, leaning on Hollywood's reenactments so as not to invade the privacy of our actual friends, whose pairing off we have determined by following the bread crumbs of their social media profiles. How long till Google+ labels one of its circles Friends With Benefits? And the self-fulfilling prophecy continues...

Which brings us back to the silver screen. Let’s recap what happens when good friends who are, say, opposites, attract an audience. Put the casual sex rom-com and an Oscar winner in the same movie-cycle attention span and you get four actors, four movies, three (as of yet!) match-ups.

Imagine “Glee” on a Josh Schwartz rewrite. Ashton and Natalie got it on in “No Strings Attached” last winter, while Natalie and Mila were appearing as frenemies — and more — in “Black Swan,” during the making of which real-life Natalie met her now-husband, director Benjamin Millepied. Now, in “Friends With Benefits,” Mila is pairing up with Justin. Not only do these actors’ characters resemble our friends who’ve slept with friends, but, even if we’ve been friend-celibate, they’re at least a reminder of the overlapping nature of our own social circles.

In another six months, could Ashton and Justin be bringing sexy back to the “Brokeback Mountain” franchise, directed by Millepied, perhaps?

Or, for the next “friends with benefits” flick, Hollywood could save a few bucks and hire some former News of the World reporters to hack into moviegoers’ FWB tweets and texts to string together the next take on this familiar story line.

Since “It’s Complicated” has been done, call it “Whatever I Can Get.”

By  |  12:59 PM ET, 07/22/2011

Tags:  Hookups, kids these days, guest voices

 
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