I Love You, Man (dir: John Hamburg)
At the root of the best modern sex comedies and movies about arrested adolescents learning to man up is male friendships, something that is always taken for granted in the same films.
What’s most fun about I Love You, Man is not the way it skews the usual perspective of male friendship, observing it the same way movies chart the evolution of a romance – the awkward meeting, the nervous phone call for a first (man)date, the slow build of trust, conflicts in split attention between this new relationship and the old ones, and of course the break-up. It’s that it actually engages the concept itself, something usually taken a face value in buddy comedies.
For nice-guy real estate broker Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), there’s nothing to take for granted. He’s been a “girlfriend guy” all his life, putting all his focus into his romantic relationships until his guy friends fell away. Now he observes the rituals between men – the quips, the nicknames, the joshing digs – but falls flat when he attempts to engage in them, talking himself into a mess of word salads and verbal circles and dead ends. What he finds in Sydney (Jason Segel), a strapping but boyish slacker who crashes one of his open houses to sample the buffet, is a man who embraces his guyness with pride but doesn’t judge Peter on his awkward attempts at impressions (which all sound the same), slangy quips or spontaneous nicknames (see word salads and verbal dead-ends above). What Sydney finds in Peter is a buddy who hasn’t moved on to wife and kids. At least not yet. All these blind mandates have all been in the effort to find a best man for his upcoming wedding. Of course, all the male bonding has a way of creating turbulence with the fiancé (Rashida Jones).
Rudd, the most valuable player in many an Apatow supporting cast, is likable and funny and brings perfect pitch to the comedy of off-key awkwardness: talking himself in circles trying to be one of the guys, never quite picking up the vibe or falling into the rhythm, unable to shake the tone of “Leprechaun” from his accents and impressions. Segal straddles the line between easy-going friend and confidante and overeager, at times inappropriate oddity, never turning stalker but tipping into an undue influence in Peter’s life. For a guy who hasn’t had a best friend since turning adult, the comfort food of male camaraderie is a little like the rush of romance.
Yes, it’s a bromantic comedy, to borrow the tag from Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, but it’s also a comedy about friendship and what it means. Not in any deep, provocative, probing way, but with eyes open to the need and the emotional fulfillment of best friends, something women’s movies gush about all the time. Let’s face it, a male-centric movie has to be pretty confident in its sense of masculinity to admit such a thing. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. I Love You, Man, directed with admirable restraint by co-writer John Hamburg (even with the poop jokes and blow-job references), has all that, plus Lou Ferrigno, Rush and the always reliable J.K. Simmons as Rudd’s sardonic dad, who is perfectly at ease with the homosexuality of his youngest son (Andy Samberg) and happy to say so in terms that always sound funnier coming out of J.K Simmons’ mouth.