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Saturday 18 August 2018

With friends like these ...

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS Romantic comedy. Starring Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Nolan Gould, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Emma Stone. Directed by Will Gluck. Cert 16

Hmmh, a movie about two attractive young professionals who embark on a sexual relationship with no emotional ties only to discover that things aren't always as easy as that? Sounds familiar.

In fact, we've been down this road several times in the past, most recently back in February when Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher made audiences suffer with the woefully misjudged No Strings Attached.

So, how come that was so dismal while Friends With Benefits is easily the year's best romanic comedy?

Well, for starters writer/director Will Gluck (Easy A) clearly likes and has a genuine feel for the rhythms and mechanics of the romantic comedy -- he knows that while there are rules there's no guaranteed winning formula unless several components click, and in Friends With Benefits they most certainly do. He has assembled a good cast and given them genuinely funny lines -- already way ahead of No Strings Attached -- and allows his performers to get on with it, which they do with charm and energy.

Justin Timberlake plays Dylan, a hotshot designer in LA who's headhunted by Jamie (Mila Kunis) to come and work for GQ magazine in New York. After she gives him a tour of the Big Apple, they get around to discussing their respective failures in relationships. Wouldn't you just know it, they decide that, ahem, no strings attached rumpy-pumpy would suit them both down to the ground.

Unless you've never seen a rom-com before you can guess how things play out, but what lifts Friends With Benefits above the pack is its respect for its genre and the delightfully playful chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake.

The latter is developing into a very smart actor and is clearly enjoying himself here, even taking the mick out of his boyband past. Add excellent supporting turns from Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's boho mother, Richard Jenkins as Dylan's father slowly succumbing to dementia and Woody Harrelson relishing the role of a gay sports editor and you have a movie which all involved can proudly add to their CVs. HHHHI

JANE EYRE Period drama. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Imogen Poots. Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Cert 12A

In the past few years the life and works of Jane Austen have been plundered for all manner of reboots and makeovers -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will be with us next year, oh yes -- but this year the Bronte sisters are back in the frame, with Andrea Arnold's take on Emily's Wuthering Heights due in November and Cary Fukunaga beating her to it with the latest in a long line of adaptations of Charlotte's classic love story.

Ever since the days of silent cinema this story of a young governess who falls for her gruff, older employer in a sprawling, Gothic pile on the Yorkshire moors has proved irresistible to film-makers. Such is the strength of the story that it would require an act of wilful perversity to muck it up. Wisely, Fukunaga (for whom this is a radical departure after his acclaimed and gritty debut Sin Nombre) has chosen to remain faithful to the source material.

In the past the role of the brooding, troubled Mr Rochester has dominated, with Orson Welles, Timothy Dalton, George C Scott, Ciaran Hinds, Stanley Baker and even Charlton Heston glowering like good 'uns and Michael Fassbender now proudly joins that illustrious club.

However, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini have tweaked the focus more in favour of Jane and they've emerged with a film which allows Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (In Treatment and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) to stake a serious claim for the definitive portrayal of the title character.

Wasikowska's Jane is vulnerable and wary after a life of rejection and lack of love, but beneath there's a steely resolve and determination to follow her heart. Her delight when Rochester displays a growing, if oddly begrudging, affection for her is tempered by the sage advice offered by housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench) that all may not be what it seems at Thornfield Hall.

The Yorkshire landscape looks bleak but beautiful and Fassbender does a fine job as Rochester but this is Wasikowska's film all the way. A classic story, impeccably told. What's not to enjoy? HHHHI

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