The past two or three years of big-screen comedy have seen yet another revision of the male funnyman. In the mid-to-late '90s, we had the chameleon characterizations of Jim Carrey and Mike Myers; in the first part of this decade, we transitioned to the boisterous comedic thunderstorms of Will Ferrell and Jack Black. Now, as the influence of reigning king of humor Judd Apatow filters through Hollywood, we have the new model: understated, lovable man-children like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Jonah Hill.
Review: I Love You, Man
By Sean Collier
March 25, 2009
What this upgrade adds is unwavering likability. These characters are somehow irrepressibly endearing; it's in the scripts as well, to be sure, but even when the films have wavered a bit, the audience's genuine affection for these characters can float a movie along to the textbook romcom conclusion. It's this trait that saves I Love You, Man, a fairly mediocre film saved by a game, playful cast.
Paul Rudd (the veteran on this team at nearly 40) plays Cosmopolitan's male ideal, an attentive, sensitive, caring soul devoted to a laid-back fiancee (Rashida Jones, best known for a supporting role on The Office.) As the guest list for their quickly-booked wedding is prepared, our hero comes to the realization that his unwavering fixation on his bride-to-be has driven nearly all the guy friends out of his life, and he is without a best man. At the urging of his normative gay brother (Andy Samberg, also likable,) he embarks on a doomed series of "man-dates," in search of his true bro-love. Hilarity ensues until he meets Jason Segel, once again playing the eternal slacker king.
From there, a very unabashed romance of sorts erupts, as Rudd nervously tries to woo Segel as a buddy, navigating unfamiliar territory on a bizarre quest. The movie is quick to point out the silliness of this journey, and has no problem playing the gay card when necessary (Samberg's character does lend a tolerance to the film, so the bits of man-on-man humor feel inoffensive.) The growing relationship between the boys predictably alienates Jones's inoffensive character, but she's so tame that when she walks out even Rudd doesn't seem to buy it.
The movie spends a good deal of time fruitlessly searching for an antagonist; it doesn't have the gumption to make one out of Jones, and ends up going with an odd bad-guy-by-committee tactic, throwing out a smarmy work rival (Rob Huebel), a female friend's near-psychotic husband (Jon Favreau), and Rudd's chief client, Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno, playing himself. Unfortunately, this adds up to a movie with little conflict, just a mildly perilous navigation of temporary obstacles.
While plenty of the dialogue is endearing and reasonably realistic, many of the jokes miss by a fairly wide margin. Two jokes are milked to no end, even after they lose their luster (Rudd's inability to come up with nicknames, and tendency to use an Irish accent for every dialect.) Segel and Rudd (and, to a lesser extent, Jones and Samberg) have a natural charm that fills in where the humor sags, but it's tough to call that comedy. Director John Hamburg is carving out something of a niche for himself as a creator of comedies that don't necessarily elicit, you know, laughter – see his clunky Along Came Polly for the best example of this – but could somehow still be described as amusing.
This, however, is where hiring irrepressibly lovable actors and actresses can pay off. You may not laugh out loud all that often during I Love You, Man, and you may not actually feel any significant investment in the story, but you'll be so damn charmed by Segal, Rudd, Jones, and the vast majority of the supporting cast that you want them to win, and you want to like the film. As the ending falls into predictable place (with a brief trip to a Rush concert and a vain attempt at a last-minute twist,) this vaguely amusing and nothing-if-not-pleasant diversion of a film will win you over, hoisted to competence by Segel and Rudd. That's a lot different from truly putting together a funny, effective film, obviously; I Love You, Man will never be confused with the titans of this movement, Apatow's Knocked Up and The 40 Year-Old Virgin. (Nor even with the silver medalists of the genre, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.) For nothing more than a pleasant little spring bromance, though, one could do a lot worse than I Love You, Man.