March 19, 2009

I Love You, Man

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



I Love You, Man

COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-03-20

Running Length:

1:45

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg

Director:

John Hamburg

Screenplay:

John Hamburg and Larry Levin

Cinematography:

Lawrence Sher

Music:

Theodore Shapiro

U.S. Distributor:

Dreamworks

Subtitles:

none


It has long been my contention that the male bonding movie, or so-called "buddy movie," is actually a romantic comedy without the sex. I Love You, Man makes this explicit - it's a buddy movie with all of the rom-com elements exaggerated out of proportion. However, despite the clever premise and several laugh-aloud moments, the film as a whole underwhelms. That's partially the result of a storyline that sags a bit from overfamiliarity, but the bigger problem is one that kills its share of standard romantic comedies: sputtering chemistry between the leads. The two main characters, played by Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, don't connect in a way that has us rooting for them to be together in a meaningful capacity at the end, and that makes I Love You, Man seem flat.

Peter (Rudd) is one of those guys who forms more lasting relationships with women than men. Hence, when his fiancée, Zooey (Rashida Jones), wonders who's going to be his Best Man, Peter can't answer her. There are candidates, such as his father (J.K.Simmons) and brother (Andy Samberg), but there's no one outside of his family. So Peter tries to acquire a new platonic partner the way many people find sexual partners - by "dating," except these are "man dates," not romantic liaisons. They also don't work. But, just as Peter is giving up, a chance encounter brings him into contact with Sydney (Jason Segel), and it's male bonding at first sight. Sydney shows Peter his "man cave," the two spend hours on end jamming to Rush songs, they go to a Rush concert, they make up pet names for each other, and they cut work to hang out. But there's a problem for Peter - he's spending so much time with Sydney that Zooey is starting to feel neglected and the wedding is soon on shaky ground.

Although Judd Apatow has nothing to do with this movie (it was directed and co-written by John Hamburg), one could be forgiven for thinking he is behind this. Not only does the film star two of the players from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (although Segel keeps his clothes on this time), but it features the same kind of sexually explicit dialogue that characterizes Apatow's endeavors. Some of the racy material - such as the explanation of what goes on in the man cave - is hilarious. But there are a lot of jokes that don't work. That's not necessarily a problem since even the best comedies have clunkers, but the chemistry between the leads isn't strong enough to fill the breach when the humor sputters.

Both Rudd and Segel are energetic, likeable performers and, based on their scenes together in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it would have been a reasonable expectation to believe they would play well off one another. Alas, this is not the second coming of Matthau and Lemon. Although the film is supposed to be about the evolution of the unlikely friendship between these two, that becomes one of the least engaging aspects of the movie. It's more interesting to follow the male/female romance between Peter and Zooey, the marital troubles of Zooey's friend Denise (Jaime Pressly, whose character is married to the always reliable Jon Favreau), or Peter's struggles to sell Lou Ferrigno's house.

While the film offers its share of zingers and raunchy punch lines, there's not much in the way of real insight into male bonding, romance, or tolerating friendships within a committed relationship. There's a sense that Hamburg wants to offer these things, but the script never gets around to doing it. The biggest "truths" he comes close to involve masturbation and oral sex. Those topics are good for shock value and getting a few laughs, but they're not subjects that result in thought-provoking dialogue.

There's no question that I Love You, Man is a cut above a lot of the movies out there masquerading as comedies, and it offers something many of them fail to provide: material that is genuinely worth laughing about. But, unless a film is balls-to-the-wall, start-to-finish hilarity, it needs more than a witty framing device and sporadic humor to keep it afloat, and that's where I Love You, Man comes up short. This is by no means a bad movie, but it's not something worth searching out. It's mediocre. Unfortunately, these days in the comedy genre, that could almost be considered a recommendation.

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