Since I pretty much only get hits when I write about romantic comedies (specifically, when I write about ‘jack nicholson rom coms’), I did a little bit of ‘research’ this week. I watched Friends With Benefits (Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis) and No Strings Attached(Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman). These were the rom-com Dante’s Peak/Volcano or Deep Impact/Armageddon of 2011.
Friends With Benefits Gross: $55,802,754 (USA)
No Strings Attached Gross: $70,662,220 (USA)
Friends With Benefits was the better movie of the two. They are similar in only one way- a guy and girl trying to maintain an entirely sexual relationship. However each movie sets this conceit up in different ways.
Friends With Benefits explores this relationship by way of two very likable people that seem to have been dicked over by boyfriends and girlfriends in the past and they are disinterested in being hurt in a relationship.
No Strings Attached is just Natalie Portman being a bitch seemingly because that’s what she is. There was nothing likable about her character. And there was nothing likable about a man being needy around her and falling for someone that treats him like shit. She never explained why she didn’t want a real relationship.
I’m not really interested in examining why No Strings Attached made more money. It was a winter release and Friends with Benefits was a summer release. Maybe it was a first move advantage and that the market for fuck-buddy comedies had already dried up by summer. There is also significant competition during summer releases and the less a movie makes initially can limit how many screens it will play on in future weeks.
I’m also not defending Friends With Benefits. If they wanted to MAKE GOLD then they should have adhered to a few rules. And I don’t think that means making a movie about 2 people that just want to fuck around.
In terms of an audience deriving some pleasure from watching these movies its clear why Friends With Benefits provides value from cinema escapism. There is the fantasy of being a successful indie blogger (hey…. that could be your boy!) who gets a lucrative job offer in the big city and the only person he has met is an attractive (and vaguely middle eastern) Mila Kunis who is sharp, funny, and can keep his ego in check.
Friends With Benefits is a slightly raunchy version of most rom-coms these days. It hits the main plot points by having them meet, hang out a lot, eventually conflict, and then the male lead needs to make a public romantic gesture to win the female lead back. Only it also has Justin Timberlake attempting to urinate with a boner. While following this formula it also makes fun of rom-com standards featuring a movie inside a movie (starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones.. I totes would see that fake movie).
But its certainly not real.
No Strings Attached is much more real. And it is terrible because of that.
In real life a guy will be attracted to a terrible woman because she looks good and went to a good school and has a good job. He will do everything he can think of to distinguish himself from other men by being charming, buying gifts, and being nice. But a girl like that doesn’t want a nice guy. These kinds of girls are attracted to assholes.
I really wish the movie would have ended with Ashton Kutcher’s character learning that lesson. Instead he falls into the trap of answering her phone calls and agreeing to be her date to her sisters wedding.
In the words of Mila Kunis’ character:
Jamie: why don’t they ever a make a movie about what happens after they kiss?
Dylan: They do it’s called porn
The real movie after they kiss is one called ‘Closer’. If you go after a girl like the one in No Strings Attached then I guarantee you will fall for her shit over and over and eventually hate her (or yourself).
There is a whole industry of film and books about guys falling for girls that want them to like them and never date anyone else but the girl will only like another. Twilight and Hunger Games come to mind. Team Jacob vs Team Edward. Team Peeta vs Team Gale.
If you say you are on Team Jacob then you are a mark. You are a mark for the oldest con on the planet. The con where a woman will never let you close but will go crazy if you start to catch feelings for someone else.
I don’t know when girls find the time to practice this art form but it seems like they have all become masters. Girls have the ability to do just enough or say just enough to keep you close and out of the arms of their competition. But they will keep you just far enough away so they can be with the men they really want (ex. Edward Cullen).
Always be Edward. Never let yourself be Jacob (especially if you catch feelings for an infant. so weird).
I don’t know why girls give me shit for my movie viewing habits but I think its because they only notice that I watch romantic comedies and they tune out when I talk about other movies. Whatever.
If this was a Miller Lite commercial then I would have already lost my man card. I drink Guinness anyway.