An aptly-titled “bromance”, John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man combines a buddy picture with a romantic comedy and hits all the usual notes along the way. It doesn’t really work in either genre, but the film is genuinely likable: funny (in an offbeat way), sweet, and even gentle. Increasingly rare attributes in modern comedies.
Paul Rudd stars as real estate agent Peter Klaven, who proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones) at the start of the film (she says yes). On the ride home, Zooey shares the good news with her friends (Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns); friends whom she’s already shared intimate details about their relationship.
Peter realizes something: he has no equivalent male friends, heck, he has no male friends at all outside of an antagonistic co-worker (Rob Huebel) and an aloof fencing partner.
After talking with his mom (Jane Curtain), dad (J.K. Simmons) and gay brother (Adam Sandberg), he decides to get some friends. Who’s gonna be his best man? (I have no idea why his brother or even father couldn’t be his best man, and it’s something the film never touches on )
This sets up a number of awkward ‘dates’ with an obnoxious soccer fan (Joe Lo Truglio), a 90-year-old man (Murray Gershenz), and a homosexual (Thomas Lennon) who thinks he’s on an actual date and leaves Peter with a passionate kiss.
But eventually Peter meets Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) at an open house – Lou Ferrigno’s house, with a statue of the Hulk star in the front yard – and the two form a bond. Fife is forward, open, and maybe a little crazy, but he’s a perfect friend, and brings out a new side in Peter.
I Love You, Man, is basically a romantic comedy, with the leads both male, and the romance replaced by a friendship. It’s only problem is that it doesn’t work on those terms: we’re given all the genre clichés, argument, breakup, reunion, but we never have enough rooting interest in the relationship to care much about the outcome.
Part of the problem is the premise, which sounds dumb, and, well, it is. These are two heterosexual guys. Their relationship shouldn’t follow a well-worn rom-com formula. But when the film strays from the formula, it’s a rather affecting portrait of these two guys and the bond between them.
Rudd is quite funny as Peter, though he often feels restrained: there’s always something underneath his skin itching to get out. And when he does let loose, he still feels restrained.
Segel is excellent as Fife; a slovenly beach bum who doesn’t clean up after his dog, there’s nothing in the script to suggest sympathy for this character, but we like him anyway. Supporting players are extremely well-cast, and account for a good number of the laughs here.
The humor in the film is mostly of the uncomfortable kind: awkward silences and embarrassing moments that shouldn’t be all that funny and wouldn’t be if they were happening to us. It’s an acquired taste; you’ll hear a lot of titters in the audience, the film provokes a reaction but we’re usually unsure of how we should confront the material.
Judd Apatow wasn’t involved with I Love You, Man, but the film is in the same ballpark as his recent comedies, Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which also starred Segel.