Now that the Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis romantic comedy Friends With Benefits has finally hit theaters, we can legitimately compare its plot with that of the similarly-themed, hooking-up-with-an-otherwise-platonic-buddy Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman romantic comedy No Strings Attached. Turns out, they’re not quite as alike as you may have thought. SPOILER ALERT!
The meet not-so cute:
Friends With Benefits: Mila is a headhunter in New York, who meets Justin’s web designer from California at the airport while she’s chasing the makeshift sign with his name on it on the luggage conveyor belt to take him to his interview to become the new art director for GQ. She has to sell him on New York before midnight, when the job offer expires. She does. They become friends because he’s emotionally unavailable due to his ambition and fear of getting hurt, and she’s emotionally damaged juggling the lack of commitment her mother (Patricia Clarkson) practices and preaches and her own desire for her life to be like the romantic comedies this film claims to hate.
No Strings Attached: More complicated. They meet at a summer camp when they’re young, then again when they’re college-age and Natalie invites Ashton to a nameless event that turns out to be her father’s funeral. A few years later they run into each other: She is now a resident at a hospital, he is a production assistant/wannabe writer on a High School Musical-type show. (I buy these jobs more.) Still, they’re not friends.
Their first time:
Friends With Benefits: While drinking and watching a (fake) cliché romantic comedy at her place starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, they start a conversation about how sex should be like playing tennis with someone. You do it, and you don’t want to spend the weekend with them afterwards. No expectations, no emotions, no need to polite, so you can tell the other person exactly what you like in bed. Which they do. In an extended scene. Later, they think it’s a bad idea — but they do it again. And it works for a while.
No Strings Attached: After Ashton finds out his actor father (Kevin Kline) is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, he gets drunk and dials every woman in his cell phone. He wakes up naked on the couch in Natalie’s apartment, and, after all her friends pretend they had sex with him, she escorts him into her bedroom to put on his pants and hear his story. They end up having sex, which neither of them expected. She has to leave for the hospital and tells him he has 45 seconds to pull himself together. He does. Ultimately, she’s the one who asks him to be her sex buddy. She doesn’t believe in love, nor does her job allow for the time to have breakfast with someone. He’s game, but he soon falls for her.
The breaking point:
Friends With Benefits: Mila decides she’s ready to date again and starts going out with a seemingly perfect pediatric oncologist (Bryan Greenberg). After sleeping with her on their fifth date, the new rule she was trying, he tries to make a run for it when she’s out getting them coffee. It’s Fourth of July weekend, and apparently planes aren’t crowded, so Justin uses his miles to get Mila a ticket to come home with him to Los Angeles. They end up making love, which freaks him out. His sister (Jenna Elfman) is trying to get him to admit he cares for Mila when Mila overhears him tell her that she’s too screwed up for him to be really interested in her. She leaves that night.
No Strings Attached: There’s another doctor who clearly has his eye on Natalie. Still, Ashton doesn’t make his move until Natalie has his back at a dinner with his father and ex during which they tell him they’re going to try to have a baby. He convinces her to go out one date with him, on Valentine’s Day. It goes well until he tells her that he loves her. They stop seeing each other.
The big gesture:
Friends With Benefits: Eventually, Justin organizes a flash mob in Grand Central Station to their song, “Closing Time,” because that’s exactly what would happen at the end of a movie that started with her taking him to a flash mob in Times Square. He tells her he wants his best friend back because he’s in love with her and they agree to go on their first date — where they end up making out instead of talking.
No Strings Attached: Natalie realizes while out-of-town for her sister’s wedding that she does want to be with Ashton. She calls him. It’s too late. She drives all the way to his place but sees him with another woman (Lake Bell), a colleague who’d helped him get a script filmed. She heads back to her sister’s wedding, which is the next morning, and Ashton gets a call that his dad is in the hospital. After Ashton’s ex breaks up with his father (through Ashton), he calls Natalie from outside the hospital and says if she wants to fix things with him she needs to do it in-person not on the phone. Luckily, she’s there at the hospital. A friend had told her his dad had been admitted and she turned around. She admits she loves him and invites him to another event. After stopping for breakfast along the way, they arrive at her sister’s wedding and walk in hand-in-hand.
Friends With Benefits earned a slightly higher grade from EW than No Strings Attached — a B- for the former, a C+ for the latter. But what do you think (whether you actually saw both films or just read about them now)?