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Published: Thursday, 12/1/2011

'Friends With Benefits' brings edge to romance films

BY ROB LOWMAN
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star in the film 'Friends With Benefits.' Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star in the film 'Friends With Benefits.'
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Thankfully, it seems sappy romantic comedies have gone away -- for a while, at least. Friends With Benefits is part of a new breed -- a smarter and funnier take on today's tangled dating.

Starring a well-paired Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, Friends self-consciously skewers all those fairy-tale romantic comedies while acknowledging that they're still stuck in people's brains, affecting ideas of love and happiness.

Kunis plays Jamie, a corporate headhunter who lures Timberlake's Dylan, a Web site art director, to head up the art department of a sophisticated men's magazine.

Both just out of bad relationships, the two are not anxious to commit, but they connect. Dylan's even willing to sit through those romantic comedies Jamie still watches while critiquing them. And urges are urges. So they hook up as friends with benefits, as the title says.

Directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), Friends With Benefits has the zippy style of a '30s or '40s screwball comedy while never shying away from: Are they good in bed together? (we see that), and Is that enough? These are questions never addressed or mentioned in most romantic comedies.

Friends also benefits from amusing casting, with Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's free-spirited mom and Woody Harrelson as Dylan's always-on-the-prowl gay co-worker.

It's not a perfect film but you should laugh hard enough that you'll hardly notice the few misses.

Days in the life

One Day is an episodic love story that follows the paths of two people -- Emma and Dex, played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess -- on the same date every year after they meet on July 15, 1988.

As the years go by, the lives of the two crisscross.

They began as friends, happily, boozily celebrating their university graduation -- the film cleverly keeps you guessing what happened on that first night. They remain soul mates though their fates often take them in different directions. Some July 15ths they don't even connect, and most are ordinary, non-momentous days, although the changes in their lives are evident.

This allows director Lone Scherfig (An Education) a chance to have fun with everything from hairstyles to clothing to music choices. The screenplay is by David Nicholls, based on his best-selling novel.

Hathaway and Sturgess are quite engaging as a couple; so you root for them. I won't give away the ending, though. How you feel about it might color your opinion of the movie.

But I found it more interesting to kind of enjoy One Day as if you were looking through a scrapbook of photos. The last picture you see doesn't sum up what's come before.

Sci-fi with a twist

Another Earth takes a trippy sci-fi idea and turns it into an interesting self-reflection on the possibilities of life.

Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with director Mike Cahill, plays Rhoda, a young woman who was once headed to MIT, but that promise evaporated when, after drinking, she caused a crash, taking the life of a woman and her daughter.

We meet her years later after serving time in prison. Her identity had been hidden because she was a juvenile at the time of the accident. Around the same time of her release, a new planet is discovered -- a blue twin of Earth.

Repentant, her confidence lost, Rhoda has moved back to her parents' house. She takes a job as a school custodian and seeks out John Burroughs (William Mapother), the husband of the woman she killed, to apologize.

Once a composer and head of a university music program, John is withdrawn and drinking when Rhoda finds him. (He too had been injured in the crash and had been in a prolonged coma.) So instead of identifying herself, Rhoda offers to clean his house on a trial basis.

As the new planet draws near and plans are made to send a spaceship to it, the pair begin to come alive again.

A low-budget film, Another Earth is overly serious at times but interesting, even though the only aliens are in the characters' heads.

Time for a change

Another enjoyable low-budget film is Miranda July's The Future, about a passive Los Angeles couple played by July and Hamish Linklater.

The thirtysomethings, Sophie and Jason, are intelligent but until recently satisfied with their underachieving status. She teaches dance classes for toddlers and he is a low-level techie. Finally, instead of waiting for something to happen as they have been, the pair quit their jobs and try something different.

There is an intelligent whimsy to The Future as Sophie and Jason begin to discover life beyond each other.

July -- who wrote and directed -- makes some sharp observations in this offbeat, likable film.

Keep in mind

Everyone's latest musical darling, Adele, has a new concert film -- Live at the Royal Albert Hall -- and if you want to see the Rolling Stones on their last great tour, there is Some Girls -- Live in Texas '78.



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