I Love You, Man

Writer-director John Hamburg has mostly made commercially successful but artistically undistinguished (borderline banal) films, such as “Along Came Polly,” or the comedy franchise of “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers,” starring Robert De Niro.

 

In this respect, his new comedy, “I Love You Man,” though just as high-concept as the above projects, represents a welcome leap forward.  The movie deals with more significant themes: the joys and rewards of male camaraderie; the things males can give to each other that no woman can, no matter how much loved or desired; the strange, often unpredictable mode in which male friendships could complicate, throw off-balance, and even threaten hetero romantic and marital bonds.

 

Inspired casting of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as the “Odd Couple” elevates the serio comedy above the routine, but leaves much to be desired in terms of comedic momentum, energy, humor quotient, and pacing.

 

Is Paul Rudd becoming a lead man and a star His previous film, “Role Model,” was an unexpected box-office hit, though it's hard to tell how much of the success could be attributed to his presence.  The theatrical release of “I Love You, Man” is timed as a date movie for the college crowd as spring break is approaching.  Date of the Paramount release, March 20, is busy in the movie calendar: Hamburg's comedy will have to compete with another romantic comedy-thriller targeted as mature viewers, “Duplicity,” starring Clive Owen Julia Roberts, not to mention the Nicolas Cage actioner, “Knowing.”

 

“I Love You, Man” strikes me as a second-tier Judd Apatow in almost every respect, dialogue, sense of humor, comedic approach, and lead characters that are decidedly offbeat.  Not to mention the fact that the co-stars, Rudd and Segel, are alumni of the Apatow growing factory; the former was in “40 Year-Old Virgin” and the latter in “Forgetting Sarah Marshal.”

 

Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a rather successful Los Angeles real-estate agent, who's a “girlfriend guy,” in the sense that he is a sensitive, non-threatening male, about to marry what he believes is his soul-mate Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones of “The Office” fame), only several months after meeting her.

 

Just as they begin planning their wedding, Peter realizes how lonely and isolated he is from the male crowd.  This stands in sharp contrast to Zooey, who has a supportive click of girlfriends whom she sees and talks (mostly gossip) on the phone regularly.  For comfort and advise, Peter has to rely on his parents (played by the iconic TV and film actors Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons) and his openly gay younger brother, Robbie (Andy Samberg).

 

At first, Zooey urges Peter to reach out for more meaningful male friendship, hoping he could find the most proper “Best Man” in the process. Unfortunately, Peter's extreme metro sexuality proves a stumbling block to all but the elderly, odd and gay, grounding his quest. Under the guidance of Robbie, Peter embarks on a series of disastrous “man-dates.” Then, quite by accident, crosses paths with Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a charismatic bachelor who cruises open-houses for free food and lonely women, mostly rich divorcées who make no commitment demands on him except sex and company.

 

The chance encounter with the free-spirited and bohemian Sydney, who lives in a shack in Venice, where most of the film takes place, turns everything around, or should I say upside down. Initially, the two guys are complete opposites—truly Odd Couple–but they are intrigued with each other, embarking on a friendship that teaches each one of them some life lessons.  Proudly crude, brutally honest and laid back, Sydney captures Peter's fascination to the point where the two are soon inseparable jam partners, rocking out and kicking back at every spare opportunity, ultimately to the detriment of Peter's job and relationship with Zooey.  (Scenes set at Peter's offices and dealing with his rich and crass client, whose luxurious house is up for sale, are rather poor).

 

The movie walks a fine line between broad and rude comedy (bathroom humor, shticks of throwing-up all over a nicely-dressed friend when Peter is tipsy, letting your dog poop in public and aggressively refusing to clean up), and poignant comedy with more serious and universal overtones.  Feminist and other kinds of critics may also quibble with the treatment of oral sex, which features prominently in the text as a subplot, motif, joke, and ideology too (See Spoiler Alert).

 

Sharply uneven, the film begins well, but then progressively gets weaker and more predictable.  The cute ending, a big wedding with surprise guests and speeches (guess by whom) is too contrived, smacking of a mainstream Hollywood wedding flick.

 

What works against the picture is the fact that there is no real chemistry between the two hetero romantic leads, and that as characters they don't have much in common.  Indeed, the sequences between the two males are far more interesting, poignant, and entertaining than those between Peter and his fiancée.

 

The high-caliber acting of the entire ensemble makes up for some of the film's shortcomings. 

There is strong rapport between Rudd, a naturally likeable fellow, and Segel, who's charismatic and intriguing without being physically attractive, which makes their evolving friendships, with its ups and downs and ups more creditable.

 

Among the supporting cast, Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly have two or three priceless scenes as a hysterically bickering married couple.

 

Spoiler Alert

 

Too much is made of oral sex: about half a dozen scenes, not all of them funny, concern blow jobs.  We learn that Zooey does not like any more oral sex (later on, she reveals the reason, which is dubious).  In a party for Peter and Zooey, Sydney makes a toast (and faux pas), when he asks Zooey to “return the favor,” a speech that creates tension between the engaged couple.  Then, like high-schoolers, Peter and Sydney discuss in detail the logistics and joys of oral sex.  At the end, as if to demonstrate her unconditional love and desire to please, Zooey promises to deliver the favored practice. 


Cast

Peter Klaven – Paul Rudd
Sydney Fife – Jason Segel
Zooey – Rashida Jones
Robbie – Andy Samberg
Oz – J.K. Simmons
Joyce – Jane Curtin
Barry – Jon Favreau
Denise – Jaime Pressly
Tevin Downey – Rob Huebel
Doug – Thomas Lennon
Hailey – Sarah Burns
Lou Ferrigno – Himself

Credits

 

A Paramount release of a DreamWorks Pictures presentation of a De Line Pictures/Bernard Gayle Prods./Montecito Picture Co. production.

Produced by Donald De Line, John Hamburg.

Executive producers, Bill Johnson, Andrew Haas, Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Jeffrey Clifford.

Co-producer, Anders Bard.

Directed by John Hamburg.

Screenplay, Hamburg, Larry Levin; story, Levin.
Camera,
Lawrence Sher.

Editor, William Kerr.

Music, Theodore Shapiro; music supervisor, Jennifer Hawks.

Production designer, Andrew Laws.

Art director, Eric Sundahl; set designer, Easton Michael Smith; set decorator, Christopher Carlson.

Costume designer, Leesa Evans.

Sound, Ken Segal; re-recording mixers, Marc Fishman, Adam Jenkins.

 

MPAA Rating: R.

Running time: 105 Minutes.