Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friends with Benefits [2011]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (2 ½ stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

Friends with Benefits (directed by Will Gluck and co-written by Keith Merrymen, David A. Newman and others and starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in the leading roles) is the second romantic comedy to be released in recent months exploring the meaning of current American jargon in the dating arena, the other movie being No Strings Attached starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in the leading roles.  Perhaps, it should also be noted here that Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman co-starred together in last year’s movie Black Swan, which earned Portman an academy award for best actress in a leading role and many felt that Kunis deserved at least a nomination for best supporting actress as well.  So whatever else one may think of these movies (as well as the performances of the leading men, Kutcher and Timberlake) these two actresses can’t easily be dismissed anymore as “lightweights.”

Having said this, what then could (or should) one say on this blog regarding Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached?   As I wrote in my review of No Strings Attached, NSA could be considered simply as a “day dream,” in the tradition of the tradition of romantic comedies dating back to Shakespeare's era like Midsummer Night’s Dream and more recently the famous Beach Boys’ song “Wouldn’t it be nice...?”  And after all is said and done, Hollywood comes to _the same conclusion_ that Holy Mother Church (acting _exactly_ as a _good_ and worried mother) would advise all along: that it’s impossible even on a relational/emotional (in Church/Magisterial speak “unitive”) level to become involved with someone sexually with “no strings attached.”  It can’t be done because one or the other in the couple is going to “fall in love” or come to understand the sexual relationship to be _more_ than “just” a sexual relationship.  And the Church, again _as a good mother, concerned for all her children_ would take the side of the person who was hurt.

I do believe that the expression “Friends with Benefits” is even more problematic than “No Strings Attached.”  NSA is at least honest in that it seeks to “play tag” with flat-out fantasy: that one could (or should be able to) have sex with someone without any consequences.  That’s simply a fantasy even in the emotional/relational/unitive realm.  “Friends with Benefits” assumes that two comprising the couple in question are already _friends_, hence that they already like/respect each other as friends.  Then, since they are entering into a sexual relationship, they are also physically attracted to each other.  At this point, one could imagine one’s family (and this plays out in this movie) _and hence _Holy Mother Church_ throwing its hands up in the air in exasperation, asking quite sincerely: WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT?  And I do believe that this is a fair relational question that anyone seeing this movie, or any couple contemplating a “friends with benefits” relationship ought to ask: What am I / are we wanting to do here?  We’re already friends, we’re already attracted to each other?  What’s preventing me/us from calling the relationship what it is, _serious_, and why _should_ MARRIAGE (even EVENTUAL MARRIAGE) be considered “out of the question?”

It should also be noted here as I already mentioned in the review of the other movie, No Strings Attached, that THE ENTIRE PREMISE of a NSA (or in this case FWB) relationship _depends_ on contraception, certainly in the heterosexual realm (which still is, and by simple statistics will simply always be the normative relationship model.  The number of gay relationships will always be relatively small in relation to the number of heterosexual relationships).  Here again, the voice of Holy Mother Church, articulated best perhaps by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) deserves _at least a hearing_.  He notes that even when contraception “works,” it has consequences: In the context of a “contraceptive mentality” the accidental conception of a child becomes a disaster or failure (EV #13.2).  Paraphrasing now and using _my own_ rather evocative phrasing ;-), a child conceived “accidentally” ought never to be thought of as having been conceived "as a result of a breach” that is, as a “spawn of Chernobyl” or something like that.

Then additionally, it should be noted that the whole contraceptive mentality runs in opposition to much of contemporary thinking.  I personally find it fundamentally contradictory for someone to be a vegitarian, eat only “organically grown foods,” oppose nuclear power and pretty much any hydroelectric project as being _inherently unsafe_ and “playing God,” etc and then _uncritically_ accept the birth control pill and condoms as _inherently safe and effective_.  Condoms fail (and generally _due to human error_) far more frequently than nuclear containment buildings and birth control pills re-engineer chemically hundreds of millions of women’s reproductive systems for the duration of their use of the pill.  Human experience has taught us to be skeptical of the safety claims of scientists in virtually every other realm from franken-foods, to the space shuttle, to nuclear power plants.  Why should one uncritically believe that birth control pills are _by definition_, “amen, alleluia”_inherently safe_?   I mention this simply to note the contradiction in thinking in popular society today and to note that the Catholic Church _has a point_ in its skepticism of the validity and ultimate morality of artificial birth control.

Wow.  All this to think about / reflect on as a result of a “simple rom com”???  Well welcome to life ;-) And yes, I’ve long believed that if one is going to evangelize, make comprehensible the Gospel and the teachings of the Church in the world today, one has to engage (and not simply condemn) popular culture. 

Would I recommend this movie?  Yes as a discussion piece to college aged young adults and above.  Also some of the supporting performances in the movie, notably Woody Harrelson playing an over-the-top studly gay coworker of Justine Timberlake, Richard Jenkins playing Timberlake’s beginnings of Alzheimer’s afflicted father, Patricia Clarkson playing Mila Kunis’ “still stuck in the ‘60s” mother are worthy of mention and and some discussion (notably Harrelson's whose enthusiastically gay lifestyle suggests that in the homosexual arena, NSA/FWB relationships are entirely possible).  But the central question asked in this movie is whether the concept “Friends with Benefits” is a worthy and ultimately workable one in the heterosexual arena.  And it should not surprise anyone here that as in NSA, Hollywood comes down on this matter actually quite close to Mother Church’s view (at least with regards to the relational dimension), that it just doesn't work. 

FINALLY NOTE TO PARENTS: The movie's R-RATING is _entirely appropriate_.  While the nudity in this movie is rather minimal, much more takes place in the movie’s bedroom scenes (yes, "covered by a sheet," but ...) than most parents would probably be comfortable with if they were viewing this movie with their pre-teens or teens.  People are people, parents are parents, but at least you have been warned.  Still, for the college-aged and above, I do think it is a great movie "to talk about."

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment