Friday, March 20, 2009

I Love You, Man (****)

Produced and Directed by John Hamburg


For almost a century, the romantic comedy film has followed the same formula successfully. One person finds another person, at first they may not seem like the right match, but through a series of chance events, the two people realize that they're perfect for each other, and--more times than not--they end up happily ever after. But what says that this formula can't work for platonic romance, perhaps between two men? I Love You, Man answers that question.

The film is about Peter (Paul Rudd), a realter who's hoping he can sell the house of his biggest client: Lou Ferrigno. With the commission of the sale, Peter hopes he can put a down payment on some land where he plans to create his own business. Before all of that, though, Peter plans to get married to his long-time girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones). Peter and Zooey share a close and very comfortable relationship, and all of Zooey's girlfriends agree that Peter is a great catch.

There is one thing about Peter, though, that seems a little strange: he doesn't have any male friends. Peter overhears Zooey and her friends joking about how their wedding will be barren of groomsmen and suddenly Peter becomes insecure. Why can't he seem to get along with his own gender? What makes him so socially awkward around prospective friends? He tries to go on "man dates", but they either end with him getting kissed on the mouth, or him projecting vomit all over somebody.

Having given up, Peter meets Sydney (Jason Segal) at an Open House in Ferrigno's estate. The two automatically hit it off, as they share after-work beers, and jam sessions involiving the band Rush. Sydney is care-free, single, and honest enough to admit to Zooey's face that she should give Peter more oral sex. For the first time, Peter has found a genuine man friend that gets his embarrassing nick names and other idisyncracies, but now his relationship with Zooey--one he's never questioned--seems to be on shaky ground.

Surely, the film does take advantage of its chances to poke fun at the obvious homoerotic tension between two men in a film like this, but not in a homophobic manner the way most films of this kind usually do. The film deals with the issues couples have when a man develops an infatuation with another person. Classic movie stuff, but this time it is not a sexual infatuation. Peter has feels emotionally bare around his new best friend, and for the first time he has someone with whom he can tell anything.

Earlier in the week, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly stated that this was the "best Judd Apatow film that Apatow has nothing to do with" (I'm paraphrasing). Surely, this film does have the Apatow stamp: it's sincere, does not shy away from an oppotunity to show a sight gag or gross-out joke, and most of all is absolutely hilarious. The script, from director John Hamburg and Larry Levin, is filled with so many hilarious asides and pop culture references that its a perfect fit for the group of actors employed here.

Rudd and Segal have been mainstays within the Apatow comedy train, but this is the first time they've been paired together specifically, and haven't had to play stoners or sexual deviants. They have incredible chemistry throughout the film, and certainly Rudd continues his run of spectacular comedic roles lately. As for Segal, around this time last year, he was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he also displayed his talented blend of scant hilarity and suave impishness. He should be just as big as Seth Rogen. Not to forget Rashida Jones, who plays a very important role in the film, and displays why she is a perfect straight woman for comedy (check out her work on Season Three of The Office).

I absolutely adore the Apatow model of comedy. It's not afraid to offend, and yet still not afraid to be sincere. These comedies don't just employ the standard leading man, they'll scrath the borders with other character types (along with Segal, there's Rogen, Johan Hill, etc.). I Love You, Man is among the best of these films, up there with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Those two films were actually written and directed by Apatow, but I Love You, Man wasn't. I guess Gleiberman was right.

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