Writer/director John Hamburg (
Along Came Polly, co-writer of
Meet the Parents
Meet the Fockers
) may not yet have the branding clout of Judd Apatow, but he definitely shares Apatow’s fondness for disaffected outcasts, a sensibility that reaches its fullest realization to date with
I Love You, Man. A canny examination of male friendships and the awkward ways in which they can complicate romantic relationships, this understated, often hilarious comedy best succeeds when hitting on uncomfortable, universal truths, making it an ideal college crowd date movie for those seeking respite from the depressing end of Spring Break.
A lifelong “girlfriend guy,” realtor Peter (Paul Rudd) is so convinced he’s finally met his soul mate in Zooey (Rashida Jones of The Office ) that he asks her to marry him after only a few months of dating. But as they begin planning the wedding it becomes clear that where Zooey has a broad and supportive network of girlfriends, Peter has no one but his mildly appreciative parents (Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons) and gay younger brother (Andy Samberg). Worried that her future spouse is missing a crucial component of a well-rounded life, Zooey urges Peter to reach out for more meaningful male friendship, hopefully finding a “Best Man” in the process. Unfortunately, Peter’s extreme metrosexuality proves a major stumbling block to all but the elderly, odd and gay, grounding his quest before it’s scarcely left dry dock.
A chance encounter with a free-spirited man’s man named Sydney (Jason Segel), however, turns everything around. Proudly crude, brutally honest and hopelessly laid back, Sydney immediately captures Peter’s fascination to the point where the two are soon inseparable jam partners, rocking out and kicking back at every spare opportunity—even to the detriment of Peter’s job and relationship.
The basic underlying premise is hardly anything new—bits and bobs of everything from The Cable Guy, You, Me and Dupree and even French director Patrice Leconte’s superb My Best Friend all show up to varying degrees. At the same time, their confluence never feels derivative, thanks largely to the fact that Rudd and Segel are so uncannily good at lending endearingly polished affectations to seemingly unpolished characters.
Balancing broad comedy and poignant insight is never an easy task, particularly with studio comedies, but Hamburg manages the challenge particularly well here. Veering into more serious territory, as the film needs to do, creates a bit of a pacing hiccup in the second half, but the payoff more than compensates. Nonetheless, Hamburg’s penchant for allowing his supporting cast to occasionally steal the film’s thunder (as he did with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Alec Baldwin in Along Came Polly ) again surfaces here with Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly as a hopelessly, hysterically contentious couple with the best worst marriage in the world.
Still, it’s the inspired casting of Rudd and Segel—both Apatow vets—that most effectively brings out the film’s unexpected charms. Rudd, whose masterful comedic timing at last seems to be getting him the lead roles he’s always deserved, frequently pushes the envelope on awkwardness so far as to make his mismanaged, unmanly ways physically painful to watch.
Coming so quickly on the heels of Rudd’s surprise hit Role Models should also give I Love You, Man a bigger than expected theatrical boost, particularly in the dog days between the Oscars and Memorial Day, hopefully providing enough juice to sustain and even longer and healthier life on DVD and Blu-ray.
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, Andy Samberg and Lou Ferrigno
Director: John Hamburg
Screenwriter: John Hamburg and Larry Levin
Producers: Donald De Line and John Hamburg
Rating: R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references.
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: March 20, 2009