Like Armageddon and Deep Impact or Volcano and Dante’s Peak , No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits are examples of the weird phenomenon where two films with nearly identical premises are released the same year-although neither of those disaster movie pairings feature Justin Timblerlake in the film that doesn’t share the title of his boy band’s most successful album. And if adding the Black Swan and ‘N Sync connections on top isn’t strange enough, there’s also the fact that the respective rom-coms feature former That ’70s Show co-stars and future real-life married couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher. I wonder if they still argue about whose movie was better.
Which actually isn’t much of a debate. Without question, Friends With Benefits is the superior of these two films. It’s funnier, more cohesive, more visually interesting, and features stronger chemistry between stars Kunis and Justin Timberlake. On the other hand, its baseline level of competence also makes it less interesting to analyze. If Friends With Benefits was clearly made by promising creators with a solid understanding of the romantic comedy genre, No Strings Attached feels like it was made by space aliens who learned about humanity by watching Garden State , catching half a Nancy Meyers movie, and stumbling across a photo of Ashton Kutcher.
Though it was released first, No Strings Attached actually had to give up the Friends With Benefits title to the latter film. Written under the working title Fuckbuddies, No Strings Attached resulted from the rather odd creative pairing of up-and-coming screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether, who created her TV show New Girl on the back of its success, and iconic Ghostbusters helmer Ivan Reitman, muddling through silversingles discount code his strange late-period career. (His previous directorial effort was 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend .) Meriwether’s script is sparky, raunchy, and goofy. Reitman’s direction is flat, sluggish, and broadly sitcom-ish.
As in No Stings Attached, the duo decides to strike up a platonic sexual arrangement
Portman stars as Emma, a driven doctor whose grueling work schedule leaves her little time to date. So when she runs into old summer camp friend/newly single aspiring screenwriter Adam (Kutcher), she enlists him to be her commitment-free sex buddy. Though the film milks some solid comedy from their height difference, Portman and Kutcher never quite develop believable chemistry together. In fact, Portman is just generally an odd fit for a raunchy screwball heroine who at one point drunkenly yells, �You look like a pumpkin, bitch!� at a spray-tanned woman.
The year after Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis played ballerina rivals in Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan , they offered a pas de deux of a different kind: dueling romantic comedies about men and women who decide to have casual sex with no emotional commitment
In contrast, Friends With Benefits is the result of creators and actors working at the peak of their particular skillsetsing off the success of Easy A , writer/director Will Gluck casts Kunis as the brassy New York headhunter who lures Timberlake’s L.A.-based graphic designer to a job at GQ. Kunis’ Jamie is an �emotionally damaged� cool girl with a secret romantic side. Timberlake’s Dylan is an �emotionally unavailable� charmer with a penchant for breaking into song. But Friends With Benefits has even more fun with that premise in an extended sequence depicting the business-like formality Jamie and Dylan adopt in bed. Freed from the pressure to woo one another, they can just be honest about what they like and don’t like, which results in a dynamic that’s both funny and refreshing.
Both films blatantly attempt to update the When Harry Met Sally formula with some R-rated Apatovian edginess. Whereas Harry and Sally explored emotional intimacy without sex, No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits explore sex without emotional intimacy, before ultimately ending up at the same fairy tale happy ending as that Nora Ephron classic. Dressing up standard rom-com storytelling with anti-rom-com window dressing paid off. Both projects grossed close to $150 million worldwide, with No Strings Attached taking a bigger chunk of that domestically. Friends With Benefits earned better reviews, however, and it’s had more cultural staying power since its release.