Jamie Rellis (Mila Kunis) is an executive recruiter for a leading job agency in New York City, and Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) works as an art director for a small internet company in Los Angeles. Jamie has the task of trying to recruit Dylan to interview for a job with GQ and begin working in New York City. Dylan comes to New York and after interviewing for the position learns from Jamie that he has been given an offer to work for GQ. Initially skeptical about the job and moving to New York, Dylan eventually agrees to the job after a fun night exploring the city with Jamie.
The following day, Jamie presents Dylan with the contract to sign so she can land her commission for recruiting him. Not knowing anyone else in the city, he and Jamie quickly develop a strong platonic friendship. One night, they get on the topic of sex and relationships. They come to the conclusion that sex should not come with so many emotional attachments. As they both feel the need for a physical connection, they agree to have sex without emotion or commitment. After several trysts together, Jamie comes to the realization that this is not really what she wants and she would like to start dating again. She tells Dylan that they need to stop.
Jamie meets Parker, an oncologist, and they begin dating. After five dates, they consummate their relationship, only to break up the next morning. Trying to be sympathetic and to console her, Dylan suggests she travels with him to California over the Fourth of July weekend, while he visits his family. Initially hesitant, Jamie agrees after much persistence from Dylan. They fly to Los Angeles, where Jamie meets his sister Annie, nephew Sammy, and father, who suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. While in California, they begin to develop strong emotional romantic feelings for each other, and share a passionate kiss, which leads to a night of close intimacy unlike any other they had shared before. However, the next day, Jamie overhears a conversation between Annie and Dylan, where Annie suspects Dylan and Jamie like each other, though he insists he otherwise and says Jamie is too "fucked up" for him to date. Hurt, she flies back to New York. A few days later, Dylan returns to New York, trying to reconcile his friendship with Jamie and find out why she has been ignoring him. He finally finds Jamie, and she informs him she overheard everything he said and has no interest in maintaining any kind of a friendship with him.
Soon after this, Jamie discovers that Dylan may be leaving the GQ position for another job before the year elapses on his contract, which would affect her commission. She confronts Dylan about this, which leads to another argument. Both begin to do some soul searching trying to come to terms with their feelings about their relationship. Jamie spends time with her mother, Lorna, while Dylan discusses it with Annie over the phone. His sister informs him that their father will be flying to Newark and he needs to be picked up at the airport. While at the airport, his father, in a moment of Alzheimer's-induced confusion, incorrectly recognizes a passer-by as a woman from his past. Dylan asks him about the woman. After regaining his lucidity, his father says that she was a woman he met in the Navy and "the love of my life". He also states that he regrets decisions he made in his youth to let her go. Dylan's father tells him not to do the same thing, and to reconcile with Jamie if there is any chance of saving the relationship.
Dylan realizes how he really feels about Jamie after talking with his father, and decides to go after her. He calls Jamie’s mother to set up an excuse to get Jamie to go to Grand Central Station thinking she will be picking up her mother. He arranges to have a flash mob dance to "Closing Time" set up to surprise Jamie at the station. When the moment comes, he catches up with Jamie and tells her how he really feels. Surprised and happy by this turn of events, Jamie tells him to kiss her. After sharing a passionate kiss, Dylan suggests it is time they go on their first real date. They go across the street to the Pershing Square café and although they attempt to keep the date casual and relaxed, the film ends with them in a sensual embrace and passionate kiss.
Credits adapted from AllMovie and The Guardian.
In April 2010, Justin Timberlake became the first to sign on to the project. He was soon followed by Mila Kunis when she landed the female lead opposite him. Approximately two months later, Variety magazine announced that an ensemble cast consisting of Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg and Jenna Elfman were set to join them in the film. Three days after principal filming began, Bryan Greenberg completed the cast. The film features cameo appearances from Shaun White, Jason Segel, and Rashida Jones. Production locations were set up as early as July 13, and principal filmography commenced on July 20, 2010 in the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City. Filming continued in Central Park and other sections of New York City from July to early August before the production relocated to Los Angeles, California.
Paramount Pictures dropped its original protest against the film after their director Ivan Reitman, re-titled his film No Strings Attached. Screen Gems then moved forward with the title Friends with Benefits. At the same time, NBC was developing a sitcom with the same title, but the movie production company stated that due to its production schedule, they didn’t expect an issue to arise. Screen Gems chose to accelerate production fearing that they would lose their title to the competing Paramount project. Director Will Gluck spoke about the frustration of comparing the two films, stating: "I wish there was more space between them. The thing that's irking me now is people are saying we're remaking No Strings Attached. We're not remaking it. The two movies were being made at the same time." Gluck, in an interview with The New Zealand Herald, said that both films are different. Similar sentiments were expressed by Kunis, stating, "It's just two different movies. There's only [...] so many stories you can tell in the world. This is just one of the many."
The first theatrical trailer was released on March 16, 2011. The trailer had a subsequent release on YouTube and attracted over a million views in 48 hours, becoming the second most watched video of the day and the most viewed video in the film category. Promotion for Friends with Benefits subsequently grew, including promotional videos from Facebook and Twitter. Timberlake and Kunis also landed on the cover of Elle in support of the film.
Will Gluck stated that the concept of the story began with the idea that he wanted to work with Kunis and Timberlake, explaining that he rewrote the script for the two actors. Following those changes, Gluck expressed that he wanted to attract a more adult audience and that he "wanted to do more of an adult movie about sex, too, and about relationships". He went on to compare the storyline of Friends with Benefits to the relationship in films between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
In an interview with Movieline, Gluck further discussed the film's plot saying that Friends with Benefits would relate largely with a younger generation. He added: "They comment about these romantic comedies throughout the movie, and as they go through their storyline, they realize that they’re in a romantic comedy story — as two regular people who aren’t in a movie would comment on. They’re very cognizant that they’re in this story [...] but they end up embracing the fact that they’re going through a romantic comedy moment." In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Timberlake explained that he and Gluck held authorship of humor and tone in regards to Friends with Benefits. Timberlake and Kunis workshopped the script for more than a month before the movie went into production. Gluck would meet with the actors with 20 pages of script in front of him and the three would beat it up, changing lines, and defending each character's perspective.
In June 2011, it was announced that Madison Gate Records would be distributing the album which featured fifteen songs. The album for Friends with Benefits was released on July 19, 2011.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the United States on December 2, 2011 and in the United Kingdom on February 6, 2012.
Friends with Benefits received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 70% based on 168 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Friends with Benefits adds nothing new to its well-worn rom-com formula, but the chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis is almost enough to carry the movie by itself." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average, gave the film a score 63 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times praised Friends with Benefits for its "breezy, speedy and funny comedy" and complimented the chemistry between the lead actors. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars, and remarked about the film, "What not every rom-com has, however, is good dialogue, well-delivered at a fast clip." He added, "Kunis fast-talks her way through the opening scenes as if she's channeling Juno, and Timberlake easily keeps up. At some fundamental level, I simply enjoyed watching them." Peter Debruge of Variety found the plot to be predictable and benign; however, he complimented the cast, calling Kunis "a natural with comedy", while Timberlake "exudes the kind of star wattage that put Will Smith on top." Likewise, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir asserted that despite a disappointing conclusion to the film, it was nonetheless a "rewarding summer diversion." The Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw reacted negatively to the film, expressing that there "was no benefit to watching it." Bradshaw gave the film a one-out-of-five-star rating.
The Daily Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu felt that Timberlake held his own when working with Mila Kunis. Concluding his review, Sandhu presented Friends with Benefits a three out of five stars. Betsey Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times praised the acting in the film, opining that "it [brought] a lot of natural life to the party." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, stating that there was "palpable chemistry" between Timberlake and Kunis. Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman gave Friends with Benefits a 'B-' grade, exclaiming that while he enjoyed much of the film, he felt that it was inconsistent.
Mary Pols of Time applauded the film, and wrote that despite the plot being predictable, the film was "elevated by energetic dialogue, the sexual chemistry between the leads and the fact that the miscommunication that keeps bliss at bay [...] is plausible." Giving Friends with Benefits a three-star rating, The Boston Globe journalist Ty Burr opined that the film "works like a charm." He added that it mostly keeps its manic energy in check, and that it plays to chick-flick formulas without ever groveling – which is due almost entirely to the leads." Similar sentiments were expressed by Peter Paras of E!. Giving it a 'B' grade, Paras asserted that the film was the best romantic comedy film in a long time. Melissa Leong of the National Post wrote, "While the film takes jabs at the Hollywood fairy tale, [...] Gluck adheres to the formula."
According to The New York Times, Friends with Benefits, a film "about love and sex in the age of social networking, gets some of its juice and tang partly by trash-talking its own genre. The setup is familiar, as are the essential elements: a single man and a single woman, two battered hearts yet a pair of resilient, eager, pretty bodies [...] Friends with Benefits starts from the premise that its characters, and you, are sick of the romantic comedy clichés they may secretly, or not so secretly, adore." Drew Pinsky, an addiction medicine specialist felt that the film's central characters, both of whom were raised by a single parent in the film, "start looking for ways to solve that problem because they were never given the opportunity to grow an emotional landscape from a nurturing, available parent. They were just quickly parentalized and became a caretaker. And the caretaking is all part of the 'going for a broken person' and trying to fix them." He further added that "love addiction ending in 'happily ever after' is not a great message."
Timberlake added that Friends with Benefits is a film for "our generation; people that are between 25 and 30 years of age that are moving into a different part of their life. They are not sure what type of commitment they are comfortable with or what they're gonna do for the rest of their life".
Friends with Benefits was released in North America on July 22, 2011, in 2,926 theaters. It collected $6,801,594 on its opening day and then grossed a total of $18,622,150 in its opening weekend, finishing third at the box office, behind Captain America: The First Avenger and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. The film grossed $55.8 million in the United States and Canada.
The film had similar success internationally. In Australia, it premiered on August 18, 2011 and earned $2.4 million during its opening weekend, charting above Green Lantern to finish first at the box office. The film expanded into Europe in September 2011. It grossed $10.6 million from over 20 territories in its first weekend. Friends with Benefits topped first place in France, where it opened with $1.8 million. The film performed highest in the United Kingdom and Germany, where it grossed $3.1 million and $2.6 million in its first weekend upon release, respectively. By mid-September, the film had grossed over $29.6 million overseas. It went on to gross over $150.4 million worldwide, with international grosses standing at $94.6 million.