Romantic comedy takes on greatest gothic romance

Film
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Cert: 15

IT’S entirely possible that it’s the moribund state of the rom com genre that makes this film seem so sparkily entertaining. After the tawdry likes of Just Go with It, Life As We Know It and No Strings Attached – a film with which this shares some plot similarities – Friends with Benefits seems a practically revolutionary concept: stars who have plausible chemistry, some good lines, and a snappiness that doesn’t seem forced.

Here’s the high-concept set-up: Justin Timberlake (for it is he) is Dylan, who works as an art director in Los Angeles, but gets recruited to a job in New York by headhunter Jamie (Black Swan’s Mila Kunis). They’ve both sworn off relationships after their latest break-ups, but reckon they can handle the idea of becoming, er, sex buddies without becoming emotionally involved. “Sex is exercise, like tennis,” says Timberlake at one point. “Let’s play tennis.”

This is despite the fact that, as they recognise, Hollywood rom-coms tell you such relationships are impossible. How knowing! How post-modern! They even swear not to fall in love with each other on a phone with a bible app, instead of a bible – how terribly, terribly now!

It’s not post-modern and knowing enough to avoid falling into the usual clichés – look, I’m just going to come out with it: they actually do fall for each other. Fancy! – but it has enough sass and zip to be far more enjoyable than its peers. Timberlake’s graduation from cheesy pop star to smart, likeable actor is proving to be the most successful such move since Marky Mark became Mr Mark Wahlberg, and Mila Kunis brings the comic timing she’s deployed for years as the voice of Meg in Family Guy.

It won’t change your world, but it’ll give you an agreeable enough Friday night out.

JANE EYRE
Cert: 15

THE most famous gothic romance of them all glowers and simmers without quite boiling in its latest screen incarnation. Charlotte Bronte’s proto-feminist heroine Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) and mysterious, glowering, tortured male Mr Rochester, dance around one another in the grey gloom of the Peak District, undercurrents of passion, pain and eroticism growing gradually from eddies to boiling rivers.

Aussie actress Wasikowska was vacuous and feckless as the titular star of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland last year, but proves her acting chops with rather more force as Jane, a young woman whose unfortunate, loveless upbringing and vulnerable comportment mask fiery passions, keen wisdom and steely resolve.

After she’s orphaned as a child and made the ward of her dastardly aunt (Sally Hawkins), she’s sent to a grim boarding school lorded over by Simon McBurney’s terrifying schoolmaster Mr Brocklehurst. Finally, as a young woman, she becomes governess to a little French girl in the dark, rambling and remote Thornfield Hall.

There, she encounters the dark, brooding master of the house, Mr Edward Rochester, played with typically brooding vigour by Michael Fassbender, and they enter into the complex maze of repressed emotions, dark secrets and volcanic passions that has influenced so many narratives since.

Directed with honesty and grit by Cary Fukunaga, this is a classy film that avoids the temptation to lapse into melodrama while keeping a constant grip on the tensions at play. There’s also staunch supporting talent from the likes of Judi Dench as the housekeeper Mrs Fairfax and Jamie Bell as the besotted young cleric St John Rivers.