Post the huge success of Aronofsky’s Black Swan, the question on everybody’s minds was what would come next for now Oscar winning actress, Natalie Portman, who played the good girl gone bad, and fellow ballerina Mila Kunis, who proved herself to be a master seductrice.
What followed was the close release of 2 films of almost identical plot. First was No Strings Attatched, where Portman starred opposite Aston Kutcher. She played a surgeon, too busy for a relationship, preferring a ‘just sex’ agreement. The flimsy character study and weak script made for awkward viewing, made worse by the utter lack of chemistry between the couple. This was possibly due to the timing of the release, which clashed with the big time gossip/scandal of Portman’s new born baby girl with Black Swan choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, which covered every glossy on the shelves.
Her own happily ever after made the pairing with Kutcher completely unbelievable /ridiculous and what followed were some awkward/cringe-worthy moments instead of genuine laughs. Failing to spark any excitement, it was a box office flop overall.
Then came Friends With Benefits. Helped hugely by mass marketing and premiere appearances by the glamorous cat-eyed Mila Kunis and MTV boy Justin Timberlake, they were literally bringing sexy back.
The film felt like a thoroughly modern affair. The latest chart toppers lead us through a bustling New York city filled with a new generation of career driven, fast talking, fashion forward twenty-somethings, trying to negotiate the rules of attraction in the digital age. Where anonymity helps fast romance, dating has become a treacherous game filled with broken hearts.
Modern film expects its audience to have a library of rom-com references enough to watch films within films and recognise them, to not tolerate certain predictability and to spot or buy into the new clichés. It should also expect its audience to be thoroughly in touch with modern culture; internet phenomenon, celebrity and famous figures in arts, music, film, literature, slang vocab etc. Without this, how can the rom-com evolve. Moreover, it’s not just about keeping up with the cool kids but about introducing us to a new generation of gender stereotypes.
Their snappy dialogue referenced everything from flash mobs, ipad apps of the bible to obsessive John Mayer fans (one in particular played by emerging star Emma Stone). Keep up if you can.
In short, with Friends with Benefits, we need no introduction, the couple’s instant click is evident. It isn’t about where the plot goes or whether the guy gets the girl, their playful city frolicking is enough to both entertain and warm any lonely heart.
Note: I love Natalie Portman and am confident her next role will prove her great talents. As for Ashton, he should stick to Punk’d.