Is it a guilty pleasure if you don’t feel any guilt?
For the past couple of months, it seems as though every time I channel surf, I stumble on a showing of “Friends With Benefits.” And every time I land on that unchallenging little slip of a movie, I watch it again. Why? I can’t give you a sensible answer. But I can tell you that a big part of the reason is named Justin Timberlake.
Revisiting “Friends With Benefits” is a great way to remember that Timberlake is the perfect leading man for a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. He’s genuine and funny and easy to fall in love with, not to mention easy on the eyes and ears. There’s a Pop Rocks chemistry between him and Mila Kunis as onscreen lovers pretending they’re capable of fabulous sex without any of the pesky emotional investment: Their union is tingly and safe, not dangerous or explosive, and I mean that as a compliment. Not every love story has to be “Django Unchained.”
Timberlake is today’s Gene Kelly. When he acts, it’s as smooth and choreographed as when he sings or dances. He might also be his generation’s Ryan O’Neal (can style-conscious remakes of “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon” be far off?), but the good news is, he’s nobody’s Frankie Avalon, despite their shared Mouseketeer DNA.
It seems impossible that Timberlake could be any good at carrying a movie, or at stealing a decent chunk of one, the way he did in “The Social Network.” Yet there he is in “Friends With Benefits,” winning us over by covering Kris Kross and Semisonic — in the bedroom, no less.
Both films are proof that anything can happen when the camera turns on. A former boy band member can make a believable movie star. A meet-cute romantic comedy slathered in flash-mob giddiness can pull you in late at night on cable, again and again and again. Sometimes your job is just to surrender.
I’m not ashamed to say that I see Oscars in Justin Timberlake’s future. OK, maybe not as an actor, but imagine him as host. Instead of “We Saw Your Boobs,” he’d be the guy bringing “SexyBack.” We’d all watch that.