Friends with Benefits: 3.75/5
2011 will forever be known as the year that fuck buddies were a prominent topic in film. Okay. So maybe it wasn’t a prominent topic, but two films, with identical comedic premises, were aggressively attempting to vulture laughs from one another. The first one to be released was No Strings Attached, a miscast sex romp that saw Natalie Portman acting like a champ and Ashton Kutcher wasting valuable space and film. Its rival was the summer release Friends with Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. The former film is a half-cooked attempt to muster chemistry between two leads while forcing awkward jokes from Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. The latter film, although extremely predictable, is a charming film that is buoyed by the white-hot chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake. Kunis as Justine, a head hunter for a New York employment agency, is an emotional recluse that hinges all of her romantic dreams on a Disney love story. But her love story takes a crippling blow once her boyfriend dumps her. The same can be said for Timberlake’s Dylan, another emotionally reserved being that just got dumped by his significant other. Both Justine and Dylan, fed up with the love that Hollywood continuously promises them in movies, decide that dating isn’t for them. As luck, fate or movie magic would have it; Justine and Dylan cross paths when Justine is tasked to find a new online editor for GQ. Her choice, as you can probably tell, is Dylan and he lands the gig, thus given birth to a friendship between two happily single people.
After developing into great friends, Justine and Dylan decide that a risk free sexual endeavor with one another would stymie their sexual urges and keep their single status in check. Love ensues, but not without uneven ending and the stereotypical complications all couples face in romantic comedies. Sure, predictability isn’t a great trait for a film, but the banter from Kunis and Timberlake make the film wholly enjoyable. Their witty conversations hit a high when their first sexual encounter features awkward body exploration. Kunis is especially adorable as her motor-mouth Justine gives the film an unstoppable energy. Actually, the entire cast brings much-needed life to a listless premise. None of this is more evident than the appearance by Woody Harrelson, who plays Tommy, the homosexual sports editor for GQ Online. Much like in his previous comedic endeavors, Harrelson easily takes the film’s best dialogue and steals every scene he’s in. Harrelson is one of many fun discoveries in Friends with Benefits. Even though it won’t be confused for a groundbreaking comedy, Friends with Benefits delivers a few body jabs to the rom-com genre and gives us a reason to laugh at relationships and sex.
We Need to Talk About Kevin: 4/5
Speaking of comedies, We Need to Talk About Kevin is flat-out hilarious! Actually, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. We Need to… is a visceral and depressing affair that dives into the mind of a guilt ridden woman, whose life is in a personal recession. Said woman is Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a social pariah after her son slays his fellow classmates in a school attack. Writer/Director Lynne Ramsay leads us through the present and past, as Eva tries to reconstruct how her son, Kevin (a creepy Ezra Miller), came to be a sociopath that laid his classmates to rest. Eva’s intimate experience lends us the opportunity to see Kevin as a bratty, petulant infant and an enigmatic teen that doesn’t intend to let anyone into his world. It’s an unnerving look at a kid that seemingly hails from the Devil’s bloodline. How did Kevin become this way? Ramsay makes adequate claims that both nature and nurture made Kevin into the beast he is. In some ways, Kevin’s horrible nature comes unprovoked. He just wants to be an antagonist to his mother. In other ways, he may have been bred out of Eva’s ambivalence to his existence. This is demonstrated in a gut-wrenching scene where Eva tries to escape the infant wails of Kevin simply by stopping by a construction site and letting the sound of a jack hammer mask his screams.
Considering the gravity of Kevin’s demonic ascension and Eva’s present depression, Ramsey shoots the film in the same vein of a psychological thriller. Disorienting imagery and lucid cuts put us in a heightened state of awareness while Eva questions her parenting. Amplifying the tough subject matter is the stunning Tilda Swinton. Broken, confused and ultimately sympathetic, Swinton cold cocks us with her most challenging and satisfying performance yet. Seeing the distance and pain in Swinton’s eyes are terrifically underlined by the frenetic score by Jonny Greenwood. Even though the film deservedly belongs to Swinton, it doesn’t feel nearly as fleshed out as it could have been. Considering Kevin’s father, Franklin (an aloof John C. Reilly), goes nearly undetected, We Need…wastes an opportunity to further explore another seed in Kevin’s upbringing. Mind you, Eva is the film’s stream of consciousness, but it would help solidify one of the ending’s more horrifying moments if Franklin’s thoughts were better presented. In addition to this, the film often treats Kevin like he’s straight out of The Omen. There is undoubtedly a chilling aspect to this, but when coupled with melodramatic moments involving the parents who hold Eva responsible for the school shooting, it just seems too heavy-handed and absurd. Thankfully, these moments don’t cripple a film that features an Oscar-worthy performance from Swinton and suffocating direction that gets under our skin. Expect hard questions with nauseating answers.