When the media blitz began over a month ago for the new romantic comedy “Friends With Benefits,” starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, many were probably wondering – didn’t the same exact film come out in January?
Why yes, yes it did. Six months ago it was called “No Strings Attached” and featured Natalie Portman, Kunis’ costar in “Black Swan,” and everyone’s favorite faux trucker, Ashton Kutcher.
While it is hardly unusual for Hollywood to take a good idea, drag it into an alley at gunpoint and beat it until it loses whatever charm it originally possessed, what is worth noting about this particular pair of films about casual sex is that the two lady leads are played by a pair of famously Jewish actresses. This begs the question – when it comes sex, what’s Jew(ess) got to do with it?
As it turns out, a lot.
While consequence-free relations don’t exactly square away Torah’s perspective on the subject, it’s not diametrically opposed to traditional Jewish thought either. As a general rule, Judaism has exhibited far less ambivalence towards the act than say, Catholicism. In a 2008 interview, Rachel Shukert, author of “Have You No Shame” and “Everything’s Going to be Great,” commenting on the post-Monica Lewinsky reputation of Jewish women and sex, said, “Jews, for all our troubles, are remarkably un-fucked up about sex. There’s not a lot of shame or guilt about it; ‘purity’ in the creepy, virginity pledge way, is not a part of our doctrine.”
So without fear of Biblical and heavenly recriminations, let’s distill the two casual-sex films into three instructive steps for Jewish women everywhere who want no strings fun
- Have a great career: Both Kunis and Portman play archetypal Jewish women, who are smart, ambitious, fast-talking with careers on the upswing, even if only Portman’s character is explicitly Jewish. Her Emma is training to be a doctor while Kunis’ Jamie is equally successful but at that only-in-a-movie type of career – executive head hunter. Whereas Emma’s job is the reason she pursues a casual sexual relationship with Kutcher (as a newbie doctor she simply doesn’t have time for a commitment), Jamie’s work is what brings her into contact with Timberlake’s Dylan, an art director she’s recruited to work at GQ. While the Jewish advantage clearly goes to Portman in this department (doctor always trumps head hunter), the important part thing to remember is that both women are successful, which gives them leave to have casual sex. If they weren’t, this would be viewed as merely pathetic, as we were expected to see Kristen Wiig’s tryst with Jon Hamm in “Bridesmaids.” Her character was broke, living with creepy roommates and working at a terrible job (until she’s fired). Add to that mixture casual sex with a cad and you’ve got one woman scraping the bottom of the barrel (but at least that barrel was lined with Jon Hamm!). So women, fling away but only if everything else in your life is completely under control.
- Be skilled in bed: Monica Lewinsky single-handedly undercut the old stereotype about Jewish women and oral sex. While Emma’s character doesn’t seem to exhibit any special gifts in this department (though to be fair, neither does her male counterpart) and the sex scenes in the film are tame enough so as not to besmirch an actress of Portman’s grace, Jamie proves to be quite the proficient. After helping her paramour perform, she quickly demonstrates that she doesn’t require similar guidance. She is clearly a natural. If you’re not good at sex, you should probably get yourself into a relationship and/or marriage, stat.
- Have a nonspecific flaw: Even though neither Emma nor Jamie is crippled by anything major, physical or otherwise, there still must be something wrong with them that finding true love with their friend with benefits will fix. The fault of choice in both movies is some combo of “emotional baggage/unavailability.” This is the romantic equivalent of a response you’d give on a job interview when asked, “What’s your greatest flaw?” and you answer, “I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist.” These are flaws only in the loosest sense of the word, which is good cause we’ve only got 90 minutes to resolve them. In “No Strings,” Emma’s father dies at the start of movie, which we must suppose is the reason for her so-called “emotional unavailability.” I say “suppose” because the script only shows her recoiling from a relationship years later with a very willing Adam (Ashton Kutcher), an unfailingly kind young television writer, and neither the dialogue nor the acting does an adequate job of explaining her reticence. In FWB, the emotional damage is split between the male and female lead, which is at least something I can get behind. As an egalitarian, I like to see defects equally divided between the genders. Both Kunis’s and Timberlake’s characters have been dumped and are in no mood for entanglements and mutually agree to a commitment free arrangement. Yet these are flaws are rather easily overcome. Next time, let someone at least have a borderline personality or something similarly challenging. How about “Girl, Interrupted” meets “Friends With Benefits”? Any takers?
So females, if you follow these three steps, you too can have a carefree romp though even if you are faithful to this advice, I can’t promise you Justin Timberlake.
Ashton Kutcher, maybe.