Showdown: No Strings Attached vs. Friends With Benefits

It’s finally here! The second half of the emotionless sex movie duo of 2011. If you missed my review of No Strings Attached back in January, I mentioned that a movie with the exact same premise was due to be released in July. Strings failed to impress me–what they did with the premise wasn’t as funny as it should have been and Portman’s character was weirdly unlikeable and hard to relate to. With how similar Friends With Benefits looked to be, many prepped for another failure. Let’s take a look at the trailers, conveniently mashed up for your viewing pleasure:

Yeah, so they really do look the same. Except they’re not–Friends With Benefits is infinitely better. Natalie Portman whines her way through one scene after another, and you’re thinking, “Hey, I really want to lock you in one of those closets you keep having sex with Ashton Kutcher in and not let you out for the rest of this movie,” Mila Kunis keeps you both laughing and on your toes with her fast-talking sarcasm. Let’s see how the two movies line up in each of their events.


No Strings Attached: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher aren’t really friends. They met at summer camp when they were little, again for a weekend in college, and they just happened to run into each other now. Ashton’s sad because his girlfriend is doing his dad, and Natalie works a million hours a week at a hospital and just wants to have sex. They’re not really friends because they don’t really know each other, so no, Ashton, you can’t call her your oldest friend in the trailer because she’s never been your friend. You can tell Ashton likes Natalie even more than he likes the idea of no-strings sex even in the beginning, so their intentions going in aren’t pure and this movie basically effs up the concept from the first sex scene.

Friends With Benefits: Mila Kunis is a headhunter who steals Justin Timberlake away from L.A. to work for GQ Magazine in New York. She’s his only friend in the city, so they hang out all the time and get really close through a couple of laugh-out-loud funny montages. Their chemistry is through the roof as actors, and their dialogue is fantastic. Writer/director Will Gluck reportedly brought both of them in to go over the script together and make dialogue changes that they felt reflected themselves and their characters, and this brilliant tactic shows. Anyway, Mila and Justin are both “totally done with relationships, you guys,” but they still like sex, so they decide to overcome the obstacles associated with friends with benefits and give it a go but promise to remain friends. Concept nailed.


No Strings Attached: Oh, Ashton. You always play the same man-boy, it’s true. Ashton works as an assistant for a Glee/High School Musical hybrid TV show, but his real passion is writing. He’s having some emotional issues considering his dad and his ex-girlfriend are shacking up together. He likes Natalie a lot, but she’s devoid of emotions for no particular reason, so he spends the whole movie flailing around trying to get her to just let love in, O.K.? He is whiny and somewhat desperate, and that makes us feel for him a little bit, but mostly you just want him to get his shit together and take his balls back from Natalie.

Friends With Benefits: Justin couldn’t make things work with Emma Stone (who is crazy and fantastic in her one scene), so he takes up Mila’s offer to work for GQ even though he likes the wide open spaces of L.A. (like a gazelle). Justin is himself in this movie–or at least, the version of himself that we always see onscreen (SNL, The Social Network). He’s confident and quirky and his voice gets kind of high when he’s freaking out. He is good at both physical humor and rapid fire dialogue. He also raps Kriss Kross and makes that deadpan face that he does when he’s embarrassed of himself. It’s like someone made a list of “The Best of Justin Timberlake” and made him perform every item in this movie. With an absent mother, a dad with Alzheimer’s, and a sister and nephew he clearly loves, Justin also manages to infuse this character with real depth and heart and a reason–did you hear that, No Strings Attached?–a REASON for his emotional unavailability.


No Strings Attached: I can’t really talk about Natalie in this movie. Natalie, who used to be one of my favorite actresses. Natalie, who was so overrated in Black Swan and then took such a huge misstep with this movie that it makes me cringe. Her character is detached and cold, but without explanation. Everything she says is like a hashtag for whitegirlproblems. Her dialogue is almost never funny, and she looks like she has absolutely no interest in being in the same room as Ashton, let alone kissing him.

Friends With Benefits: New favorite actress. I loved Mila in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and she brings the same charm to this movie. Justin describes her as “all fast-talking and brusque, like I’m bring home a carny.” It’s often hard for a woman to match her male lead in funny, but Mila steals every single scene, and Justin–bless him–seems to have no problem with that. Those big eyes she has makes her onscreen crying all the more effective, but she doesn’t overdo it. Our heroine is not only funny, but also vulnerable and strong. We can see where her worries come from, but when she slaps a coffee out of a guy’s hand and says, “Go fuck yourself,” we smile and laugh and say, “She’s awesome.”


No Strings Attached: After Natalie helps Ashton through a rough patch with his dad, he asks her out on a real date. She warily accepts, and it seems to be O.K. until he tells her he loves her. Pump the brakes, Ashton. He tells her he can’t see her anymore when she freaks out, and then, surprise, surprise, she misses him so she caves to his ultimatum of love and they date. Not only is it predictable, but it was absolutely no fun in getting there. The humor of this movie lies stubbornly in the first half, and the second half is all tears and manipulation that no one enjoyed watching.

Friends With Benefits: Mila gets dumped after she and Justin end their romping, and he brings her to L.A. to meet his family and cheer her up afterward. They have not-exactly-emotionless sex and Justin freaks out and lashes out at Mila in a not surprising defense mechanism. His Alzheimer’s-riddled father helps him realize he’s being an idiot and he declares his love for Mila in a Kriss Kross/Closing Time flashmob. Predictable? You bet. Highly entertaining to watch? Absolutely.


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