I saw Friends With Benefits the other night. I didn’t have high hopes – I tend not to have very high hopes for any romantic comedy these days – but I actually really loved it. The two leads were charming and funny with great chemistry, New York looked gorgeous, they dissed Katherine Heigl, John Mayer and Nicholas Sparks (and also George Clooney, but in a good way), and there was a flashmob. You know I love a flashmob.
There were two moments that pulled me out of the story, made me go “WTF?!” and that I’m still fuming about a couple of days later. The first is this (Jamie is played by Mila Kunis, Dylan by Timberlake):
Jamie: Okay. So, what is your type anyway?
Dylan: [sarcastically] Oh, no. I don’t have a type. It’s more about what’s inside.
Jamie: Oh, please! Okay. What about her?
[points to a woman standing on some steps reading]
Dylan: Yeah! I could get to know her inside. And she’s reading a book.
Jamie: It’s probably Nicholas Sparks.
Dylan: I’m gonna go talk to her.
Dylan: What do you mean ‘what’? You said we need to learn to date again. I’m gonna go talk to her.
Jamie: Now? Here? In front of all these people?
Dylan: I didn’t say I was gonna rape her. I’m just gonna talk to her.
Gosh, that’s funny, isn’t it? The way he just dropped ‘rape’ into the conversation. Because he’s not going to rape her, obviously, he’s just going to talk to her. That’s why it’s funny!
Wait. I don’t get it.
The thing that shocks me about this is not that it’s a rubbish line that made me instantly dislike Dylan, it’s not that Jamie – who is generally a pretty no bullshit character – giggled rather than saying, “Wow. What an asshole” (and in fact later in the movie starts to repeat the line, but doesn’t make it to the end), it’s that no one at any point in the making of this movie thought, “Do you know what? If someone’s watching this and they’ve actually been raped, that line’s not going to come off as charming as we think it is.”
And then there was this:
Jamie: I’ll go next. See if I still have game.
[as he spots a guy]
Dylan: Ooh! Okay.
Dylan: Right here. Eleven o’clock. Iced coffee.
[referring to man standing ahead of them drinking iced coffee]
Jamie: Handsome, but doesn’t know it. Staring at a tree, which means he’s actually in the park for nature and not to watch women sun bathe.
Dylan: Or he’s retarded.
Jamie: Don’t care. I’m goin’ in.
Ah “retarded”. Always a comedy staple. A really lazy comedy staple (see Caitlin Moran’s otherwise wonderful book How to be A Woman.) Gemma Varnom wrote an excellent blog post about the word “retard” in relation to Moran’s book and she explains just why it’s offensive much better than I ever could: Weapon-words, Caitlin Moran and the Responsibilities of the Writer.
The thing I find really shocking about Friends With Benefits is that in all other respects it seems to be going out of its way to be as current as possible. You can have all the mocking of rom-com cliches, flashmobs and iPads you like, but there’s just no place for jokes like this in 2011. Seriously.