Monday, May 25, 2009

Review - I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man has everything you expect from a modern romantic comedy. It has two characters – one uptight and awkward, the other free-spirited and laid-back – who meet cute and quickly fall for each other. The film then charts their growing closeness through a number of comical situations, before throwing a late spanner in the works that threatens the relationship. Hell, the movie even has a last-minute dash to a wedding – it couldn't be more conventional – but I Love You, Man, as you might have guessed from the title, is not a story of boy meets girl. John Hamburg's film is the latest in the increasingly prominent subgenre of the 'Bromance' – films that celebrate male friendship and camaraderie as much as the pursuit of the opposite sex.

In fact, the central subject of
I Love You, Man is the nature of male companionship. Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has always been more of a 'girlfriend guy', happier spending time in female company, watching a romantic movie, than drinking with buddies at poker nights or football matches. When Peter proposes to Zooey (Rashida Jones) at the start of the picture, all of her friends comment on what a great catch he is, but the wedding preparations highlight a curious gap in Peter's life. As they finalise the guest lists, Peter realises that he doesn't have any close male friends, and as such, his choices for the position of Best Man are severely limited. In desperation, Peter begins scouting around for friends, which raises an interesting question – just how does an adult male go about the business of finding new companions? I Love You, Man's solution is to set Peter up on a series of 'man-dates'; a ghastly process resulting in embarrassment (joining squeaky voiced Joe Lo Truglio at a football game), misunderstanding (being kissed by Thomas Lennon), or outright humiliation (vomiting all over Jon Favreau).

Peter's search ends during an open house at Lou Ferrigno's Hollywood home, which Peter is trying and failing to sell. One of the attendees is Sydney Fife (Jason Segal), who openly admits to Peter that he has no interest in buying the property; he's simply there for the free food and the chance to chat up divorcees. Sydney's honesty and lack of pretence instantly strikes a chord with Peter, and the relationship between the pair resembles a comic spin on that shared by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in
Fight Club. Like Tyler Durden, Sydney is the epitome of unabashed masculinity. He's completely free to do what he wants, when he wants, and he indulges all of his primal urges without a second thought. He even has a 'jerk-off station' in his garage, which he showcases openly; everybody masturbates, he explains, so why are people ashamed of it? In standard fashion, Peter responds to Sydney's attitude by being more relaxed in his approach to life, and more confident in his own ability to succeed at work. Zooey is a supportive presence, until Peter's friendship with Sydney begins to place a strain on their relationship, leading to the expected third-act crisis.

The predictable nature of
I Love You, Man doesn't really matter, though. The film is hilarious, warm, and it has a roster of great performances, which is enough to set it several notches above the average entry in this genre. Following his success with last year's Role Models, Rudd once again proves he's the best comic lead in the business right now, possessing both superb timing and an innate likability. He throws himself heedlessly into embarrassment – his attempts at 'cool' lingo are excruciating – and he plays off Segal perfectly. For his part, Segal – who appeared slightly out of his depth in Forgetting Sarah Marshall – settles comfortably into the role of Sydney, and there's an interesting ambiguity throughout about the true nature of this character, at least until the good-natured finale. The 'Bromance' may never reach the widespread popularity of the rom-com, but under John Hamburg's focused direction, I Love You, Man emerges as an unusually satisfying and insightful comedy.