Movie Review: I Love You, Man
By Matthew Huntley
March 31, 2009
After watching I Love You, Man, I was surprised to learn Jason Segel had no hand in writing it, especially since the movie contains the same natural and frank-sounding dialogue as last year's wonderful Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel wrote and starred in. In I Love You, Man, Segel's character talks openly and practically about things like sex and masturbation, but he doesn't sound crude, and the way he delivers his words convinces us he'd be talking this way with or without the cameras rolling. Segel plays who he is, and although I've yet to see him truly "act", his real self is a pleasure to spend time with, probably because he's so down-to-earth.
Segel is fresh and funny right now, and while he's only going to get bigger, his on-screen presence remains uniquely humble and confident - a pleasing combination. And like Segel, I Love You, Man never feels like it's trying too hard or going out of its way to be trendy, which is refreshing for a comedy about immature men.
One of movie's best qualities is that it's funny without feeling temporary. I can imagine I Love You, Man sticking around for a long time, not only in theaters, but also in people's memories. Like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Role Models, it stands just outside the Judd Apatow school of comedy and brings with it a higher intelligence and more lasting observations of human nature. Unlike many of the Apatow-associated features, it's also not so dependent on pop culture to generate laughs. It's more about the timeless conflicts of growing up and making relationships work. I credit a lot of this to its stars, Paul Rudd and Segel, who are both smart actors and comedians, and who never seem to settle for material that doesn't deconstruct something truthful.
Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a mildly effete real estate agent on the verge of a big commission and dream. His perfect plan involves asking his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones), to marry him, but their engagement brings with it one small problem: Peter discovers he has no male friends to celebrate with and therefore no one to be his best man. According to his brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), Peter has always been a girlfriend kind of guy and it scares Peter to think he may wind up as "one of the girls" during his wife's lady's nights, so he goes on a mission to meet some male cohorts.
This is an ingenious premise for a bro-romantic comedy because it opens up a plethora of possibilities to poke fun at male insecurity, the uncertainties of relationships and the universal need for acceptance. A refreshing twist on the genre is that Zooey is written not as a flaky, misunderstanding type who wants Peter all to herself, but as someone who sympathizes with his dilemma and wants to help him. Robbie, who's gay, feels he can give Peter some pointers on how to pick up males, which leads to a funny montage of Peter spending time with other men who just aren't his type, and some of whom get the wrong idea altogether.
Then along comes Sydney Fife (Segel), an investor who frequents open houses just for the free food. Peter meets him when he's showing Lou Ferrigno's house and the two exchange numbers. Afterwards, it's funny how Peter hesitates calling him and the awkward message he leaves before finally meeting Sydney at a bar. Director John Hamburg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Larry Levin, obviously knows and understands the nuances of male behavior and trepidation, and why shouldn't he? More importantly, he knows how to capture them on film, and Rudd knows perfectly well how to manifest them in his performance. All of Peter's mannerisms, dialogue, pacing back and forth - it all felt real and unaffected. When I was watching it, I felt like I was seeing and laughing at myself.
Sydney and Peter's friendship inevitably becomes overbearing for Peter and Zooey's relationship, but even this development fits reasonably within the movie's reality. It never stoops down to sitcom-level humor or becomes overwrought with idiot plot devices, so we believe everything that happens.
Aside from being consistently funny and entertaining, I Love You, Man just seems to have respect for its audience. The humor is genuine without being sardonic and the characters seem like real people - people we know, people we are. But the movie, thankfully, doesn't go out of its way to make us aware of that. It knows that we know and it has fun with it, and we learn from it and laugh at it. The best part is, I Love You, Man is a comedy we could laugh at more than once, and today, that's a rare and special thing.