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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 15, 2011

Veiled Allusions in Friends With Benefits--Who'd Have Thunk it?!

Last week, I wrote about the veiled allusion to Paul McCartney's song Blackbird in Mr. Mister's song Broken Wings, and also the veiled allusions to Kahlil Gibran's writings in Blackbird, and also in John Lennon's song Julia.

Those were particularly good illustrations that the kinds of veiled allusions which I sleuth out so regularly in Jane Austen's novels and letters are not generated only by the greatest writers like JA, but also by writers who would NOT be ranked among the greatest writers in history.

Today, I've got another one from the realm of pop culture, in the romcom du jour, _Friends with Benefits_, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.

[And by the way, there are spoilers in this post, if you have not seen FWB!]

I went to FWB with expectations only to be entertained and amused, and my modest expectations were fulfilled...except that I did notice one detail that got me thinking about veiled allusions.

That detail was the clever way that "Kunis" teaches "Timberlake" the basics of (to put it bluntly) oral sex. It immediately brought to my mind the virtually identical way that "Marisa Tomei" teaches the identical lesson to "Mel Gibson" in _What Women Want_.

And that almost immediately led me to associate to the _very_ famous scene in _When Harry Met Sally_, in which "Meg Ryan" teaches "Billy Crystal" a closely related lesson, about women faking it. And of course, the screenwriter of FWB just happens to give Kunis dialogue mentioning Nora Ephron films.

Now, that might seem a pretty straightforward lineage, from 1989 to 1998 to 2011, three intelligent romcoms in which women teach men about female sexuality. It is hardly surprising that each later film would make a clever wink to a worthy predecessor in that lineage.

But when I woke up this morning, I realized there was even more than that going on in FWB, that pointed to What Women Want, in an even cleverer way.

To wit, Kunis, a NYC headhunter, sells Timberlake on a new, prestigious job with GQ in NYC by staging a flash mob in Times Square [I had misremembered the location as being Grand Central Station, but a very helpful reader just pointed out my error] with a few hundred commuters suddenly performing an elaborate dance extravaganza with Timberlake standing right in the middle of it, to sell him on NYC as a happening place to live. This also marks the beginning of the sexual chemistry between their characters.

Timberlake then reacts to this bravura bit of stagecraft on Kunis's part in two ways. First, he adapts video of that dancing flash mob into a video logo for GQ, as one of his first inspirations in his new job as art director. He channels Kunis's creativity into his work.

Then, in the _romantic_ climax, Timberlake atones for his having rejected Kunis by returning her favor from the beginning of the movie, and surprising Kunis by staging a similar dancing flash mob in Grand Central Station for _her_ benefit, which melts her heart---and of course true love prevails.

So, what does this have to do with veiled allusions? Well, first, the dancing flash mob itself seems a sly allusion to the way Jennifer Garner sparks a spontaneous Michael Jackson Thriller dance extravaganza at a business party in 13 Going on 30. But, much more cleverly and with a more serious thematic purpose, what we have in the way Timberlake adapts Kunis's flash mob is a reprise, in a different setting of what Gibson does to Helen Hunt in What Women Want.

In that film, Gibson can hear Hunt's thoughts, due to a supernatural intervention, and as a result, he picks her creative thoughts during a brainstorming session, and then presents her ideas as his own in an ad campaign, which gets her fired.

But then, once he can no longer hear women's thoughts, he reforms and atones for his sin by getting her rehired....with him as her subordinate (and, we might guess, husband). A very feminist ending! land this plane, all of those veiled allusions in Friends With Benefits, to both What Women Want and to When Harry Met Sally, create a very interesting matrix of variations on the theme of romantic climax as the result of men coming to awareness where previously they were clueless about women, where the key to men becoming worthy romantic partners is when they learn to _listen_ to women without super powers, but using the brains and ears that God gave us all. A theme that Jane Austen was the undisputed mistress of, most of all in Pride and Prejudice.

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

A lot of folks from seem to be reading this particular blog post--I infer from this that some kind person said something nice about this post, and also provided a link.

Will someone please satisfy my curiosity and provide me a link to that nice link? ;)

Cheers, ARNIE