Friends with Benefits Blu-ray Review
Friends with Benefits comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Sony has a good track record for producing quality releases, and this is certainly no exception, the UK release matching the earlier US release. Shot digitally, the film looks stunning from start to finish, with that picture-perfect look that many HD-shot films boast, only with none of the noticeable side-effects, like motion-blur (perhaps because of the romcom nature of the proceedings). Detail is excellent throughout, without any room for softness, a drop in clarity or any digital defects like edge enhancement and excessive DNR to impinge upon your viewing pleasure. And it really is a treat to watch – it’s not glossy in a Michael Bay way, instead coming across as just very real and natural throughout, but pristinely presented. The colours scheme is broad and realistic, the tones presented vividly throughout, all the way up to and including the black levels which are strong and allow for deep, solid shadowing and night sequences. Really there is nothing here to quibble with. Some prefer the kind of grain associated with shooting on film, and without that filmic look may well be disappointed with this digital offering, but, honestly, I think it works very well for this modern urban romcom and suits both the tone and the setting. Excellent.
On the aural front the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track – again, on the face of it, seemingly identical to the US Blu-ray’s track – is perfectly good, technically, but certainly nothing spectacular, distinctly limited by the proceedings and lacking the refinement required to make it stand out. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, the snappy retorts flying at you from the frontal array. Effects are limited, as you might expect, with a few traffic-related noises, some motorboat noises (and subsequent water-based atmospherics), and lots of crowds energy giving the surrounds something to do, but nothing much else. The smaller, more atmospheric ambient sounds are not handled quite as well as you would expect, although there is a palpable atmosphere created in some of the scenes, even without anything overtly boisterous. Certainly the flash mobs represent some great moments, and, indeed, the movie does benefit from a chirpy, perfectly acceptable score which, whilst not particularly memorable, is never even for a second irritating or distracting. Overall a little more bass and refinement may have pushed this into demo quality territory but, as is, it’s a perfectly decent but distinctly unexceptional aural accompaniment.
Friends with Benefits boasts an assortment of extras which cover all the bases – commentary, trivia track, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurette – and which are all totally in-line with the main feature, coming with full contribution from all those involved: the writer/director and his two lead stars. It appears to be an identical extras package to the US Blu-ray release.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Will Gluck and Stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. This is a fairly jovial, light-hearted affair, with lots of little trivia, nods to deleted scenes, talk about rewriting the dialogue together, information about locations used, and mutual teasing between the trio. It’s not wholly informative, but quite fun, and if you love the movie then it’s worth a listen.
Picture-in-Picture Trivia Track
Bonus Benefits: A Pop-Up Trivia Track offers a distinctly underwhelming accompaniment to the movie. The biggest trouble is that it cannot be played in conjunction with the Audio Commentary, and I can’t honestly see how many viewers will want to sit through the movie three times just to access the scant few interesting titbits it offers. It’s a very random track – the makers probably thought it would be more “hip” to do one like this – and it offers pointless notes about the walk-on actors, the various degrees of separation between the filmmakers involved, some location details and some completely random facts (e.g. what film was playing at the cinema they were shooting at). None of this is a big negative, but the facts are so few and far between that it just doesn’t feel like it’s worth your time.
There are 10 Deleted Scenes which come with optional Commentary by the Writer/Director Will Gluck. Totally just 9 minutes of extra footage, the majority of the scenes are fairly short and probably better off left on the cutting room floor. Many of them are already noted in the full Audio Commentary, but Gluck is on-board to further elucidate as to why they were removed. I have to say that I didn’t think either the faux superheroes sequences or the Ferris Bueller reference were in the least bit funny (even though one of the scenes, with Dylan showing Jamies around LA, would have been a nice full-circle sub-plot) and only the extra Woody Harrelson moments strike the right chord, but even they feel a little bit like they were improvised outtakes rather than polished final cuts.
Here we get 7 minutes of the cast and crew basically goofing around on set, making silly faces, dancing in front of the camera, fumbling their lines and generally making each other laugh at inopportune moments. The stars have got to be Harrelson and Timberlake who both have some great comedy acts and voices which totally throw their fellow cast members into uncontrollable hysterics. Worth a look.
On Set with FWB gives us a brief 5-minute Behind the Scenes look at the shoot, filming in NY and LA, the crowds who gathered to see the cast in action (in particular Timberlake) and the main setpiece locations. There’s plenty of cast and crew comments, with participation from both the lead actors and Harrelson too.
In a Flash: Choreographing a Mob offers up a further 5 minute look at the two key flash-mob sequences, where they had to get a large crowd of extras to work together and pull off the scenes. I’ve never seen a flash mob in real life, but they do provide some interesting performance pieces.
Finally the disc is rounded off with a number of Preview Trailers for other Sony releases.
Far from a masterpiece, Friends with Benefits is still an eminently enjoyable romantic comedy which both pokes fun at – and pays tribute to – the genre from which it emanates. It’s fairly honest, without being downright cynical, and it features charming dual performances from Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, both hot young upcoming stars who provide more than enough energy and chemistry to keep you entertained.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get an excellent release that matches up to the earlier US counterpart, providing superb video, very good audio and a reasonably comprehensive selection of extras, all of which makes this a definite purchase for fans of the film. Newcomers who have become cynical after decades of terrible romcoms, or who have been put off by thematically comparable tripe like No Strings Attached, should rest assured: this is actually quite a good movie. It may not be standout in any specific way, but the very fact that it is a more-than-decent romcom is something unusual in and of itself. Worth a rental.