- "That's the last time I use match.com to meet man-friends."
I Love You, Man (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Decades from now, when sociologists are sifting through the male-bonding comedies of the early 21st century, I wonder what they will conclude about dudus Americanus.
Had we become so divided from our inner chest-beating he-beast that we needed an entire movie genre just to reassure us?
I Love You, Man is the latest in the trend popularized by the Judd Apatow oeuvre, but expanded to films like Superbad, Pineapple Express and Role Models, featuring Apatow alumni that has come to be called the "bro-mantic comedy." And it may have much to teach us about ourselves, my brothers as we are, as we wish we could be, and as we want to make it excruciatingly clear to everyone that we are not.
At least it seems to want to be that insightful. Director/writer John Hamburg and co-writer Larry Levin begin with a pretty solid premise, and a character with which to explore it. Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is the kind of guy that girls adore. A successful real-estate agent, he's also a considerate lover who proposes romantically to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones) and even makes root-beer floats for her and her friends while they're celebrating the engagement. In a peculiarly contemporary way, he truly is a ladies' man.
But there's a dark side: He has no idea how to be a man's man. He doesn't have drinking or poker buddies; he's not even butch enough to usurp his gay brother (Andy Samberg) as his own father's No. 1 pal. Rudd's terrific at playing this kind of domesticated guy, and he gets plenty of comic mileage out of his inability to articulate any sort of casual dude-speak.
So he begins a quest for someone to fill out his wedding party and after failed, forced attempts, he meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) at an open house. Sydney is Peter's polar opposite a man who has no problem letting loose his "ocean of testosterone" even at seemingly inappropriate moments. Segel's not the most obvious choice for this kind of a role, having mostly played the sensitive schlub himself. But he finds an interesting middle-ground between casual confidence and, ultimately, insecurity that his freewheeling ways are leaving him without any peers with whom he can hang.
The easy, funky rapport between these two characters should have allowed I Love You, Man to sail on waves of comedy gold. But nearly everything that's inventive about this idea seems to have ended with the idea itself.
The supporting characters particularly Jones' Zooey and her two best gal-pals, played by Sarah Burns and Jamie Pressly are so thinly sketched that you have to squint to see them. Hamburg and Levin manage few real laugh-out-loud gags, preferring to cruise along on the light amusement of Peter's bumbling attempts at machismo. Only Jon Favreau a veteran of the real pioneering modern bro-mantic comedy, Swingers as Pressly's ill-tempered husband manages to bring the film to occasional life.
It's a shame, really, that I Love You, Man isn't funnier, and that it feels as uncomfortable in its own skin as its hero. We're getting closer to learning something interesting about what guys need from other guys, but the sociologists won't be gleaning more from this effort than a few chuckles. Where there could have been bro-mance, we're still getting mostly bro-vado.