Friends with Benefits - The SSL Review
Yeah, I'll watch Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis doin' it nasty style. Okay, it didn't turn out to be that nasty, but I did watch it at a preview screener last night.
This is, of course, an SSL review (see all the SSL Reviews HERE), so I will be discussing the specific depictions and discussions of female sexual release, but first let's just discuss the movie, shall we?
Was it formulaic? Oh, very much so. Did it purport to unseat the fairytale illusion of love and relationships, while firmly keeping in place the sense that relationships should be "magical." Yes. It did do that, but I can forgive much in a movie if I didn't get bored and if the characters work, and they did work. They had chemistry. They seemed like they actually liked each other. They had a similar sense of humor, and put-your-life-into-it jobs, and they liked to talk about the same things. They were sexually compatible. I mean in the world of Hollywood relationships, this isn't always the case. I'd also like to say that I didn't hate either of these people. I'm a very hateful person, so this can cause roadblocks in my movie going experience. To give you an example of my hatefulness, I currently can't stand the complete lack of personality and redeem-ability I find in Jason Segal's character from Forgetting Sarah Marshal (plus he was, to my sensibility, the least funny part of that movie), and it has irrationally turned me against him as a person - particularly since he wrote this movie and felt it was appropriate to pair his lazy, boring, not hot character with the insanely hot Mila Kunis. This hot female with a dopey, out of shape, useless male thing is a liberty writers take much too often - Justin Timberlake's sexy abs are a much better sidekick for Mila Kunis. (Side note: in a strange twist Segal was in a RomCom spoof within Friends with Benefits, and he was equally unfunny even when spoofing a RomCom). Anyway, my point is that I had a good time at the movies. If you hate Kunis or Timberlake, you may hate this movie, but I, for one, will watch this again one Saturday afternoon when I turn on the TV and it happens to be playing.
Now the question remains...was the doin' it good for our sexual culture or bad? Well, my friends, it wasn't so bad. It had only tinges of progressiveness, but most importantly it wasn't moving us backwards.
I like to think of these critiques in relation to a young, not yet sexually active person; knowing that depictions and discussions of sex are the only way they learn about the nitty gritty parts of sex - how to act, what's expected, what's normal, what might happen - and my personal favorite - what is supposed to make you or your partner orgasm. The assumptions that can be taken from these depictions affect both young and old, experienced and inexperienced. I think they are highly influential, so I try to break them apart and really look at what they are saying to people about female sexual response.
The first assumption that can be made from this movie is that ladies can get orgasms from receiving oral sex. This assumption can be made because Mila Kunis is depicted orgasming as a result of this. It is their first sexual experience together. There is some quick cuts of hot, urgent kinds of kissing and touching, and then we see Kunis lying on the bed while Timberlake's face is between her legs and under a blanket. We hear him - I think - saying the alphabet all muffled as if he is taking the old advice of writing the alphabet with his tongue on her vulva. Whether that was the intention or not, he's definitely mumbling something in a concentrated doofy sort of way. She isn't really loving it and reaches down, pulling him up by his tongue. She looks him in the eye and asks him who told him he was good at this? He replies something like, "every girl I've ever been with." She quickly lets him know that he's not and tells him to get back to it. We see some cuts where she's giving him some directions like, "to the right!" Then she begins to orgasm, letting out a grunty scream. Timberlake immediately pops up to see what's happening to which she wastes no time telling him to get back down and keep at it...and she comes. Her vocalizations were maybe a bit overdone - a tiny bit too loud of a grunty scream for my taste, but that was largely due to the intention of orgasmus-interuptus comedy when Timberlake pops up, and it really didn't strike me as unrealistic. She certainly wasn't screaming like a porn star, and the orgasm lasted several seconds - similar to
the the time a male's orgasm would be expected to last in a scene, so it was within normal expectations of orgasm length for a woman (no orgasming the entire sex act bullshit). She then quickly went down on him and he began acting as if he was going to have to tell her how to do it too, but in about 3 seconds, he comes. I would say that this is unnecessary stereotyping to insinuate women are better at blow jobs than men are at eating out, but honestly it's probably true. We ladies have way better information about that.
Another thing I like to look at when it comes to cunnilingus is whether it seemed like the dude was stimulating the vulva/clit or tonguing the hole, because I think that a common misconception is that oral sex means pushing one's tongue in and out of the vagina. Because he was tastefully under a blanket during this, it wasn't obvious which he was doing, but his head wasn't bobbing up and down, plus Kunis said something when she was chastising him about his technique. I don't have the exact words, but she said something like, "are you digging for gold down there?" Although this is subtle, I thought this could be taken as her telling him not to go digging in the hole - although it could mean nothing more than don't go licking so hard. No harm done either way. All in all...this scene was solidly fine. The viewer is told ladies can orgasm through cunnilingus, it is okay to give direction about how one likes cunnilingus, and lady orgasms can be expected to last a few to several seconds with a bit but not excessive amount of vocalization. Great.
That was the only depiction or discussion of orgasm actually, but there are a few other things I want to point out. First, the characters tell each other how to do things, what they like, what they don't like while having sexual encounters. In fact, there is a whole montage where they are saying these things. It is an important aspect of their character development, showing that they are open with each other, accepting criticism without drama. The movie asserts that the ability to do this is a cornerstone of a good sexual (and emotional) relationship, and I agree. In fact, I would argue that because of all the very unrealistic and inaccurate assumptions about female sexual response lurking in our culture, that good communication and easy going acceptance of criticism among partners is the easiest way to work towards a mutually orgasmic sexual relationship. So, I really appreciate that clear sexual communication is made to look fun, useful, and not weird or scary.
Second, at one point Timberlake is on top of Kunis, obviously having the intercourse, and she says something like, "more circular," as if she is telling him to move his pelvis more circular while doing her. I always like the insinuation that women like a more circular movement during intercourse and that thrusting is not necessarily that great for lady's orgasms. That women are more interested in "grindy" sex is not a new revelation. It's kind of a Cosmo/Glamour staple. However, I worry that the meaning behind this gets lost. It is not that the inside of the vagina feels better when the penis is moving around and less when moving in and out. It is that when sex is more "grindy," the pelvises tend to stay closer together (think clit against lower pelvis) and the circular motion of the man's pelvis stimulates her clit. So while Kunis' directive statement wasn't off, it was certainly not progressive. The "secret" (i.e. clitoral stimulation) of female orgasm during intercourse continues to be kept under its cover of vague secrecy.
This brings me to another lost opportunity for progressiveness that I saw. They were having sex when Timberlake had to stop and go pee. She was in the moment and didn't want to stop. It takes him a long time cause he had a hard-on. This is a scene meant for comedy, and Kunis is laying in bed waiting. She's getting absolutely bored, but she just waits; in the meantime he creates the comedy then comes back to finish the sex. As I was watching it, I kept thinking she should just decide to rub herself off, and then be done when he gets back. It would be as funny as anything else that was going on, plus what's more shocking than dun dun dun...female masturbation, I mean it's absolutely crazy - who wouldn't give a nervous giggle. But really, that could have happened, and actually she could have rubbed one out while they were having intercourse in any of the sex scenes. Why not? It would show the couple to be uninhibited, nonjudgmental of each other, and a little sexually edgy, all the things I think the movie was going for, but they didn't. I tell ya - the first Hollywood movie I see that has a woman masturbating during intercourse will get super extra bonus vulvas.
So...Although there was no female masturbation this movie did show that other forms of sexual activity besides intercourse (specifically oral sex) could make up a satisfying encounter. It showed a fairly realistic orgasm from a woman while being stimulated in a way that could actually cause an orgasm. It highlighted the importance of explicit communication to a sexual relationship, but it missed opportunities for a more progressive depiction of female sexual response.
Friends with Benefits gets 4 out of 5 vulvas
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