There’s bromance in the air. I Love You, Man investigates the ins and outs of man-love (not that kind) and turns all the conventions of the standard Hollywood rom-com on their head with a sly bit of gender swapping. Unfortunately, while laughs are had and the cast is talented, I Love You, Man becomes an object lesson that sometimes just tweaking one element of a worn-out genre still isn’t enough to produce anything more than a slightly fresher version of the same-old, same-old. Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is doing well for himself. He’s an up-and-coming real estate agent on the cusp of the big time (if he can finally sell Lou Ferrigno’s house). He’s got a gorgeous, fun fiancée (Rashida Jones). The one thing he doesn’t have is any friends—any guy friends, that is. As his brother Robbie (Andy Samberg) puts it, he’s always been more of a “girlfriend guy.” Somewhere along the way, he missed out on gathering that small but close-knit group of buds most of us take away from high school or college. He doesn’t even have a best friend. Consequently, his wedding party’s going to be somewhat off-balance, since fiancée Zooey has a pack of gal pals readymade to don bridesmaid dresses. Peter decides he needs to find himself a bro. He tries everything from classified ads (too old) to getting fixed up by his mother (too gay) and brother (too annoying). Just when Peter’s about to give up hope, Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) walks into his life…more specifically, into an open house Peter is hosting. The two hit it off, bonding over a mutual love of the band Rush, and it looks like Peter has found his best man. But we all know it won’t be that easy, don’t we?
I Love You, Man is inevitably going to be compared to Apatow comedies such as 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Even though Apatow had nothing to do with I Love You, Man, the film is headlined by two of his regulars and it settles easily into the same tone and style of humor he’s set the bar for in recent years. It’s perhaps an unfair comparison, since many of the actors here seem to be making an effort to play against the types they’ve established, but there’s no avoiding it. So let’s get it out of the way: I Love You, Man is nowhere near as good as Virgin or Knocked Up. It’s not even as good as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which never gets as much praise as those two despite, in my opinion, being just as good if not better. I Love You, Man is at once funny and forgettable, a pleasant diversion for two hours that is ultimately sabotaged by falling prey to the same clichés it’s trying to satirize.
The high-concept pitch here is a romantic-comedy with dudes, and therein lies the problem. While there’s plenty of humor to be milked out of taking the traditional structure of the Hollywood rom-com – Peter’s series of disastrous man-dates are a high point of the film, especially his attempts to fit in with a belligerent Jon Favreau’s poker circle – I Love You, Man sticks so rigidly to that structure that there are very few surprises here. Peter and Sydney’s relationship unfolds along precisely the same arc as countless mediocre movies we’ve seen before: the meet-cute, the good times, the tragic misunderstanding, and the inevitable reconciliation. Similarly, just as in a thousand Hollywood romances before, we have the straight-laced, somewhat awkward guy who’s taught to come out of his shell and embrace his crazy side by an outgoing eccentric. This time both roles just happen to be carrying Y chromosomes. It’s certainly more fun watching Rudd and Segel go through these motions than, say, Kate Hudson and whoever Kate Hudson is playing against this week. But beyond that? The wallpaper might be new, but it’s still the same crummy apartment we’ve been living in for years.
It also doesn’t help that Rudd is playing against type here, and not entirely successfully. I can understand why he’d want to sign on for the Peter role: because if you read the script, you’d automatically assume he’d be playing Sydney. Rudd has made a name for himself playing the effortlessly cool, funny guy that every guy wants to be friends with, a role he perfected with Knocked Up. Playing Sydney would just be another riff on the same thing he’s been doing for years, but Pete is a challenge. Pete lets him play the straight man. But the problem is…it’s Paul Rudd. We all know it’s Paul Rudd. We keep waiting for him to shrug off the self-conscious tongue-tiedness and flatten Jon Favreau with a snide quip, but he never does. And while we’re on the subject of tied tongues, that’s the running bit with Peter, his constant inability to say the right thing or the cool thing. It’s essentially a 90-minute version of the infamous and painful answering-machine sequence from Swingers (despite director John Hamburg swearing in the commentary that that similarity never occurred to him), with Peter desperately trying to impress everyone and instead sounding like an idiot. It’s a quirk that might have worked in moderation, but they overuse it to the point that it just becomes annoying, a quick-and-easy crutch so the writers don’t have to demonstrate Peter’s character in more subtle ways.
Which isn’t to say I Love You, Man is a bad film. While Rudd stumbles in the lead, Segel does just fine playing a Rudd-esque role as Sydney, and the rest of the supporting cast is great fun, especially an understated J.K. Simmons as Peter’s dad and Reno 911!’s Thomas Lennon as Pete’s man-date who thinks it’s a much different type of man-date. Rudd and Segel are top-notch improv artists, as demonstrated by the special features, so the film has plenty of solid dialogue and quotable lines. I Love You, Man is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for a casual, stress-free night on the town, I Love You, Man is worth a call. You might even dry hump I Love You, Man on your futon. But let’s be honest: you’re not going to be taking I Love You, Man home to meet your mom. And that’s okay. I mean, they can’t all be “the one,” right? As seems to be standard for every comedy released these days, most of the special features on I Love You, Man fall into the category of “funny stuff the actors said that wasn’t scripted.” In fact, I Love You, Man takes this to the next level with the vaguely named “Extras” section, which is devoted to nothing but alternate versions of lines. It’s funny enough, and an interesting look at just how quick these actors are on their feet and how many options they give a director and editor to work with. Still, it feels a little redundant on top of the “Extended Scenes” and “Deleted Scenes,” which are usually extended or deleted just because the actors started riffing in ways that were amusing but still needed to be cut from the final film for pacing. Top that all off with the ubiquitous gag reel, which is basically the actors losing their shit and laughing at all the aforementioned off-script improving. It is nice to see how casual a set it was, what with several of the actors calling the director an asshole.
The commentary with director John Hamburg and actors Rudd and Segel is the usual mix of production anecdotes and good-natured bullshitting amongst people who seem to enjoy each other’s company. Fortunately, Rudd and Segel are genuinely funny onscreen and off, so the commentary is often almost as entertaining as the film itself. Certainly, Rudd is more fun playing Rudd than he is playing Peter.
Finally, the 15-minute making-of featurette is a well-rounded look at the various elements of production. It’s more in-depth than you often get, where some films just slap the press-kit video on the disc and call it a day. If you want to know more about the flick, this will do the trick, but you’re not going to learn anything mind-blowing here. All in all, it’s pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from extras on a comedy DVD, only with slightly more Rush-love than is typical.
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