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Friends… with Lateral Benefits

Friends With Benefits comes out on DVD/Blueray today.  Not that you should get it — in fact, you shouldn’t.  It’s crass, mean-spirited, promotes the division of sexuality from emotions even while it’s theme expresses the opposite, and perhaps the worst thing for Hollywood, it’s derivative.  For all its snarky banter, it’s structure is still paint-by-numbers. It wants to mock its romcom conventions but ends up rolling in them.

That said, it does give us a good example of one screenwriting concept I promote, and that is: lateral thematic brainstorming.

Once the writers got their basic theme down, say, you can’t separate sex from intimacy, they broke that down into its positive and negative counterparts — deep connectedness vs. a violation of the sacred.

And then they brainstormed how that could play out in other contexts.  Interruptions of the NYC commute with mob dancing.  Violating professional client/headhunter relationship with sarcasm, sex and (gasp) honesty.  The magazine juxtaposing fashion into deeper commentary.  The kid’s magic tricks that reveal themselves…

And in an incredibly wide stretch, Dylan (Justin Timberlake) violates the now sacred act of Sully Sullenberger bringing down the plane in the Hudson by explaining how planes practically land themselves.  Everyone, except for his medically disconnected father, is repelled by such a heartless debasing of the sacred, which ties directly into the theme.

So for all it’s fore mentioned faults, one thing the movie does NOT do, and had no reason to do,  is stop to explain the sacredness of sexual intimacy.  No one gave a sermon, or monologued about it.  The story had integrated its chosen values on multiple levels so that it was self-evident.

Thus, it is an example of unified storytelling.   THE STORY IS THE MESSAGE.

But don’t expect Friends with Benefits to be taught in film school.  It might have sold its theme a little better had it shown one married couple – or relationship or anyone else for that matter – that wasn’t completely dysfunctional to model true intimacy for these two “friends.”  And that might have cut down the pervasive nihilism and moral relativism, but then again, each project reflects the POV of its creator.

What’s your POV?

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