(No longer in theaters)
Donald De Line, John Hamburg, Ivan Reitman
Mar 20, 2009
The unusually nimble slob comedy I Love You, Man stars the soft-boned and unassuming Paul Rudd as Peter Klaven, a slightly effeminate heterosexual (he’d make a fine NPR host) who must struggle to build male friendships when he’d rather curl up with his fiancée, Zooey (Rashida Jones), and watch premium cable. It is, if you’ll forgive me, a Sissy-phean task. Peter has a beautiful bride but no best man or even the makings of a bachelor party; he is a painstaking, responsible fellow in a culture geared toward child-men—a slob-comedy universe. And Rudd, using his innate mildness and crack (mis) timing, is able to generate an astounding amount of sympathy for this hapless girlie-man. See him miss high fives, bungle fist bumps, and mangle all attempts to add “bro” or “dude” (or complex variants, e.g., “Von Dudenstein”) to the ends of sentences; see him wince in horror at the prodigiousness of his lameness. It’s no wonder that when the big, unkempt Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) lumbers into an open house (Peter is a Realtor selling the garish manse of Lou Ferrigno), it’s man-love at first sight.
The question of man-love is central to I Love You, Man. What is it? What is it really? It’s hard to know what’s conscious here. The writer-director, John Hamburg, wrote a scene in his (so-so) 2004 comedy Along Came Polly in which a squeamish anal retentive (Ben Stiller) plays basketball with large shirtless men and finds his face mashed up against a wobbly, sweaty, hairy, mole-y man-belly. Very peculiar, this panic over physical contact with males. For Rudd’s Peter, it isn’t scary to talk to girls, but he needs his mom (Jane Curtin) to set him up on awkward “man-dates.” Trying to leave a breezy message on Sydney’s answering machine, his voice flies up into a falsetto. (“Call me back when you get a mo … ”) It’s what the gals in He’s Just Not That Into You are going through one screen over in the multiplex.
Rudd’s contorted slang is poetry, and Segel gives Sydney layer after layer of creepy subtext: Is he a finance wizard or a con man? An easygoing Lothario or a twisted freak? Gay? What are we hoping will happen at the end again? I Love You, Man is totally formulaic, but the formula is unnervingly (and hilariously) inside out. The typical Judd Apatow modern sex-comedy hero is supposed to forswear the world of drugs and self-pleasuring and inane teen fixations, not embrace them in the name of self-improvement. The buddy is supposed to buck up the man to help him get the girl; the girl isn’t supposed to buck up the man to help him get the buddy. In screwball comedies, overly cerebral, “de-bodyized” men are forced to loosen up by free-spirited women, not men whose apartments have a special sacred chair for jerking off in. I Love You, Man is a howl, but maybe it’s better not to think about it too hard.