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75th Post: Battle Royale: Friends with Benefits vs. No Strings Attached


            vs.            

We’re at it again folks, only this time the fight is a little…sexier. Guy meets girl (or vice versa). Both are beautiful – shocking – so there is a mutual attraction that just cannot be ignored. Hold up! They are both emotionally damaged so they don’t want the frivolities of a standard relationship. No, they want to keep it Olivia Newton John style. Two movies, two former ballerinas, six months apart, but which one was actually worth seeing – if either. Battle Royale #2: No Strings Attached vs. Friends with Benefits

Grade:                                                                                    Grade:

                                                                      

The real question here is what do you prefer: a self-aware film that stays fun until the turn (FWB) or a typical film that doesn’t avoid – or mention – the plethora of clichés (NSA)? You can imagine the fun Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake would have working together because they both choose roles – mostly – that allow them to enjoy their work. Therefore, watching them interact in FWB relaxes you in a “I bet those two are really good friends in real life” sort of way. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher have a more no-nonsense approach – at least Portman does, Kutcher tends to look confused most of the time – so for much of the film their relationship looks forced and unnatural.

See what I mean

There are minor details about each film that try to add a dash of originality to the tired plot. FWB goes for pop culture references from start to finish. There are cameos galore and nostalgic songs bringing the “oh hey” reaction. NSA goes the Grey’s Anatomy route by making Portman and her group of friends doctors, but that’s really about it. The effort for originality was really lacking in NSA.

That being said, there are two distinct moments where NSA clearly beats FWB: supporting cast/roles and after the turn. By the turn, I mean that inevitable moment where the physical relationship is called into question due to one person’s feelings. FWB takes a serious tumble in this regard with the introduction of Timberlake’s family – even if Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins do an excellent job. The happy-go-lucky attitude of the film is flipped on its side and smacked…hard and doesn’t really recover. NSA, on the other hand, gets more charming as it progresses, but it is hard to get a grasp on why (maybe someone who agrees can help me).

The supporting cast of FWB is solid, no doubt, but the film is completely about Kunis and Timberlake so no one is given a chance to shine. NSA gives just enough time to the likes of Mindy Kaling, Lake Bell, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig and Jake Johnson to get the audience to connect with them. Gerwig and Johnson actually steal the show a bit with their minor roles and screen time since Kutcher and Portman are, to be honest, a little boring together.

When deciding which to watch, you have to take into account the goal. Neither film is to be taken seriously. One is a rom-com with more comedic flavorings while the other sticks to the romance. It’s all about your preferences. Friends with Benefits will have you laughing more often and more wholeheartedly, especially during the more realistic sex scenes (note: both have sex montages, but FWB’s is much more entertaining). I’d “recommend” FWB for most and NSA for only some.

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