From Shakespeare and Austen through Tracy and Hepburn, when it comes to romantic comedies, chemistry is king. It's one reason the rom-com has long seemed like the toughest code for Hollywood to crack.
But never underestimate the power of snappy, rapid-fire banter, the paving stones of the Hollywood road to romance.
That's another way of saying "Friends With Benefits," the R-rated romantic delight of the summer, had me the moment Mila Kunis' character passes a poster for the failed rom-com "The Ugly Truth" and utters this immortal line: "Shut up, Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar!"
Dylan and Jamie think it's going to be easy to add the simple act of sex to their friendship, despite what Hollywood romantic comedies would ...
Rating: R for sexual content and language
Length: 104 minutes
Released: July 22, 2011 Nationwide
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Harley Peyton, Keith Merryman
"Friends" pairs up Kunis, as Jamie, a New York corporate recruiter ("headhunter"), and Justin Timberlake as Dylan, an L.A. editor she hunts, hires, befriends and eventually tumbles into bed with -- a friendship with sexual benefits. Yeah, it's like "No Strings Attached." Only better. Snappier.
The not-quite-lovers "meet cute," in the classic Hollywood style.
"I'm from L.A.," Dylan chirps, in New York to see if this job at GQ magazine would be a good fit. "I like my open spaces."
"What are you, a gazelle?" Jamie shoots back. "You LA folk are so ... cute."
Will ("Easy A") Gluck's movie -- script by Gluck, David A. Newman and Keith Merryman -- is all about the New York/L.A. conflict. Everybody in NYC yanks poor Dylan's chain -- sarcastic, biting put-downs, fake threats and come-ons. There's Woody Harrelson, cast against type as the butch yet over-the-top gay sports editor, and in a hilarious cameo, gonzo snowboarder Shaun White repeatedly scares the bejeezus out of the overmatched Dylan. No wonder he clings to Jamie, his first friend in New York. She's into weepy romantic comedies, which they watch together.
"Why don't they ever make a movie about what happens after the kiss?"
"It's called porn."
Being young and good-looking and married to their jobs and so frequently burned by other relationships, naturally they tempt fate by trying the sex-without-complications thing. "Two people should be able to have sex the way they play tennis."
Set the ground rules -- no emotions, "just sex," and "whatever happens, we stay friends."
Gluck knocks us on our heels with the film's opening scene -- dueling breakups (Andy Samberg is the guy doing Jamie wrong; Emma Stone of "Easy A" shrieks her way out of an affair with Dylan). Later, Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson and Jenna Elfman show up in tiny but funny roles as relatives.
And the stars pick it up from there. Kunis already has sitcom-ready timing, and the editing makes the zingers just zing by.