Ex with Benefits garnered some controversy prior to its release based on its portrayal of med reps. The movie has characters crossing ethical lines in their pursuit of success, and eventually, romantic bliss. The truth is, that portrayal hardly matters. The film doesn’t care enough about the issues that such ethical breaches might bring up. It turns all that toxic material into cutesy romantic fluff, treating heinous acts of emotional extortion as fodder for montages meant to convey how good the two main characters are together. And it pushes for a sense of morality that the plot simply cannot support.
Adam and Arki (Derek Ramsay and Colleen Garcia) fell in love as med students, but they ended up having a painful breakup. This causes Arki to just disappear. Ten years later, Adam is one of the hottest sports doctors in town, and Arki is a successful med rep who has gotten where she is thanks to her willingness to do anything to get the job done. Arki is tasked with getting Adam's endorsement for a new painkiller, and as soon as the two are together again, the memories come flooding back. And though Arki seems to be determined to make it all about business, she finds herself falling in love anyway.
This story gets into some really touchy territory. And that would be fine, if the film actually rose to the occasion. But it still largely functions on the same cutesy romcom rhythms that fuel much lighter fare. And so, a montage of Adam forcing Arki to do date activities with him in exchange for the promise of his endorsement is played as cute. The movie just conveniently ignores the ethical and moral boundaries being crossed in this sequence of events, concentrating instead on the playful banter and meaningful looks shared along the way.
It gets more than a little icky, and it makes what comes later in the film a lot harder to swallow. The back half of the movie gets really serious, with Arki making big revelations about the reasons she disappeared all those years ago. It's the kind of twist that this movie simply cannot support. It's also the kind of twist that seems to define this new generation of romantic literature. The movie is an adaptation of a Psicom novel, and it really shows in this bug, ugly twist that never really gets properly addressed. It is just background trauma meant to give the story an illusion of weight.
And that's all it is: an illusion. The movie doesn't really have the guts to follow through with the consequences of such revelations. The edginess of the content gives ways to a conservative morality that feels really out of place in the context of what's already taken place. The film gives voice to moral lessons that come way too late to feel authentic. The movie contradicts itself in the end, as it ignores what the characters went through in order to adhere to the simple morality of mainstream cinema. The acting never feels altogether comfortable, with Ramsay and Garcia sharing precious little chemistry.
Ex with Benefits feels like it ought to be a story of a forbidden love, of dealing with the consequences of making unethical choices in the name of romance in an industry where lives may be on the line. It touches on serious issues and heavy trauma that shouldn’t be ignored. But that is exactly what happens. In the end, this is just another movie where a couple of attractive smile at each other a lot, ignoring all the terrible acts that they commit along the way. A pop song plays, and that’s supposed to make everything okay.
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