20 March 2009
I Love You, Man
The so-called “bromance” has become one of the more prevalent comedy subgenres. Producer-writer-director Judd Apatow has been its champion, bringing us classics like Superbad, along with more forgettable fare, such as Step Brothers and Pineapple Express.
The typical “bromance” follows the expected beats of a romantic comedy, only it’s not about the love between a man and woman, but the friendship of two men. They used to be called “buddy movies.” These films are, in fact, about love—in their own raunchy, staunchly heterosexual way. I Love You, Man, one of the best “bromances” to date, does not even try to hide from that.
The movie—which, like last fall’s Role Models, is not an Apatow production but feels like it is—begins with sensitive Los Angeles real estate agent Peter Klaven, played by The Great Paul Rudd, proposing to Zooey (Rashida Jones, formerly of “The Office”). She immediately shares the news with her closest friends, while Peter is content to call his parents the next day and tell his co-workers on Monday.
Later, when Peter overhears Zooey talking to her gal pals, he comes to a realization: He has no male friends. He’s always been a “girlfriend guy,” content to make root beer floats for Zooey and her friends, or spend a Sunday evening cuddling with her while watching HBO. He counts “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Chocolat” among his favorite movies. He’s spent so much time focusing on the opposite sex that he has never taken the time to develop any other bonds.
This is a problem when it’s time to assemble a wedding party.
The unasked question: Why doesn’t Peter ask his younger brother Robbie (Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live) to be his best man? Instead, he gets Robbie, who is gay, to help him meet men and go on a series of bizarre “man dates.”
Unfortunately for Peter but fortunately for us, these excursions don’t go so well. The potential friends: Lonnie (Joe Lo Truglio), an enthusiastic soccer fan whose voice cracks like a 13-year-old boy; Doug (Thomas Lennon), who plants a sloppy kiss on Peter’s face after they have dinner; Mel (Murray Gershenz), a lonely 89-year-old; and the short-tempered Barry (Jon Favreau), husband to Zooey’s friend Denise (Jaime Pressley).
Then Peter meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a regular at open houses who’s never looking to buy—he’s there to woo divorcees and for the free food, which is quite good when Peter is showing Lou Ferrigno’s home. (The former Incredible Hulk TV star appears as himself in an amusing cameo.)
A business card claims Sydney is an investor of some kind, though we never see him work. He spends most of his time walking—but never cleaning up after—his “puggle” (a cross between a pug and a beagle), named Anwar Sadat for his resemblance to the late Egyptian president, and hanging out in his “man cave,” a room stuffed with TVs, guitars and drums.
They have a few drinks, the free-wheeling Sydney gets the reserved, straight-laced Peter to open up about things he’s never discussed with anyone (mostly his sex life), they bond over their love of the prog-rock band Rush and they quickly become inseparable.
Rudd and Segel, who shared a few brief scenes last year in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, have an easy chemistry, and the movie derives much of its fun from simply hanging out with them.
Peter is friendly and likable and hopelessly dorky with his cringe-inducing attempts at slang (“totes magotes”) and nicknames (“Jobin”) and his inability to end a phone call without saying something awkward (“I will see you then or I will see you on another time.”)—and he realizes it even as the words come out of his mouth. It’s in these moments of bewildered embarrassment that Rudd’s remarkably subtle comic timing is at its best. Rudd takes a naturalistic approach to comedy; he finds the character and the laughs come not from broad jokes but from what that character does within each situation. That is a dry way to describe the work of one of our very best comedic actors.
In supporting roles over the years, Rudd has consistently stolen scenes and entire movies. Between I Love You, Man, and Role Models he has established himself as a bonafide leading man.
Though they have much in common, Sydney is in many ways Peter’s polar opposite—carefree, always honest and frank. The vast difference in the size and physical appearance of the gangly Segel and slight Rudd helps drive the point home.
In lesser hands, Sydney would be little more than an offensive lout; Segel makes him someone you would want to hang out with if you had the chance.
The other actors, including a very game Rashida Jones, who is as welcome a presence on the big screen as she was on television, take a back seat to Rudd and Segel. J.K. Simmons, as Peter’s father, feels particularly underused, but he’s the kind of actor you want to see more of no matter how big or small his role is.
Director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who co-wrote the script with Larry Levin, gives his actors room to breathe but also knows when to rein them in to keep the story moving — what story there is, anyway. But mostly, I Love You, Man breezes along on the charm and chemistry of its two leads.
Rudd and Segel form an ideal comedy duo, one I hope to see on screen again very soon.
(Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references. 104 minutes.)