Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Love You, Man

Director: John Hamburg
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Seagal, Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons, Jamie Pressley, Jon Favreau Jane Curtin, Andy Samberg
Running Time: 105 min.

Rating: R

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

I Love You, Man is the type of comedy that surprisingly gets a whole bunch of little details right. Actually, it gets so many details right you almost run the risk of missing something if you don't pay close enough attention. That it accomplishes this is somewhat surprising considering a new Judd Apatow-style comedy is released every other month that covers similar territory as the one that came before it. Even if his name isn't there as either writer, producer, or director (which it isn't in this case), his footprints are all over it.

Each time I expect to tire of the well-worn formula of a man-child being forced to take responsibility and grow up. But I haven't yet. And I think the reason I haven't yet is because each movie seems to have some kind of clever little quirk or hilarious take on a life situation that differentiates it from the rest. In this one, writer/director John Hamburg takes the pitfalls of dating and relationships and cleverly applies them to platonic friendships, with hilarious results.

The plot is formulaic but never feels like it because the writing is so clever and the two leads share such great comedic chemistry onscreen together. Between Rudd and Segal it's almost impossible to choose who gives the more fulfilling performance because both make the film. I've come to expect this kind of greatness each time out with Rudd, but it was Segal who stepped out of his comfort zone a little more to play a character who isn't as goofy as you'd think. And it's that contrast, along with some funny sub-plots and supporting players, that make this an undeniable success.

California real estate agent Peter Klaven (Rudd) seemingly has it all. Newly engaged to his beautiful girlfriend Zooey (The Office's Rashida Jones) and expecting to rake in big bucks closing on Lou Ferrigno's house, things couldn't possibly be going any better. It's just too bad he doesn't have any friends to share it with and as his wedding day quickly approaches he's in danger of walking down the aisle minus a best man. Throughout his life, Peter has always been the consumate "ladies' man," always enjoying the company of women in his life but seemingly unable to forge lasting male friendships.

When his father (J.K. Simmons) and very openly gay brother (Andy Samberg) come up with the idea of setting him up on "man dates" to try to find a best friend. That doesn't work out so well, with Peter losing all hope entirely until he runs into the bizarre and charismatic Sydney Fife (Segal), who's "cougar hunting" for divorcees and scoring free food at his Ferrigno open house. In him he's finally found his friend "soulmate" who introduces him to a whole new world outside his boring, everyday existence. Unfortunately, Sydney's presence, while increasing Peter's confidence, begins to cause a serious rift in his relationship with Zooey.

When the film began, I was kind of unsure of the direction it was going. It doesn't really start to become clear until Peter starts "auditioning" friends, the results of which are not only hysterical, but surprisingly observant and true to life. As you're watching one of his man dates you have a sneaking suspicion that what Peter thinks is happening might differ entirely from what his "date" (played by Thomas Lennon) thinks is going on. But you're still not quite sure. When that suspicion is confirmed, the payoff is priceless. Rudd and Lennon sell the whole thing perfectly. Another classic scene, in which the catchphrase-challenged Peter leaves a voicemail on Sydney's machine we should all recognize since we've all probably left one just like it at some time or another. Hamburg's script knows that, milking the joke for all its worth, making the clever observation that it's sometimes no less difficult to launch a platonic relationship than a romantic one.

The movie is filled with clever sub-plots, most notably the funny dynamic between Peter's dad and brother, a smug, "urinal cake faced" co-worker (played by Rob Huebel) and ANYTHING INVOLVING LOU FERRIGNO and the selling of his home. The choice of Ferrigno for this part was gold and it's hard to imagine any other celebrity working as well in that spot. Every single joke involving him hits the mark, while the script somehow manages to not to mock or ridicule the actor, as can often occur when stars are playing themselves. His agent deserves a raise getting him to appear in this as he comes out of this looking like a million bucks while still supplying many of the films' laughs.

The true success of the film lies in the "bromance" between Peter and Sydney. The characters bring out in one another what the other lacks. Rudd is kind of playing the nervous, doubting Woody Allen or Larry David-type and judging from the commercials I expected Segal to be the sloppy, irresponsible goofball who terrorizes Peter's relationship with his fiancee, not unlike Owen Wilson's character in You, Me and Dupree. But Segal's Sydney is surprisingly smooth and well-adjusted, offering witty life ruminations and encouraging Peter to just be himself. He's not there to just wreck havoc as he would in an inferior slapstick comedy. He's a smart, interesting person who just so happens to be directionless and Segal's performance reflects that. After a while you start to wonder who really needs the friendship more. I found his work here to be more interesting than in last year's Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which he wasn't bad in either).

When Sydney brings Peter into his "man cave" there's no turning back. They bond over golf and jam out to Rush, enjoying a real resurgence considering their music is now being anointed by every comedy released these days as the holy grail of classic rock. It's a proclamation even I'm starting to believe is true, though it's sometimes tough to tell whether the films are winking sarcastically at their greatness. It's taken a step further this time as Geddy Lee and company actually appear.

Since this is a rom-com (albeit with a guy slant) we're still required to have the requisite third act crisis with the girl, which is thankfully underplayed and Rashida Jones comes off as so effortlessly cool and likable as the female lead. Of recent comedies, she probably ranks second only to Elizabeth Banks in Zack and Miri in terms of bringing the most to the usually thankless "girlfriend" part. Zooey would represent the perfect wife if only she had heard of Rush and didn't have Jamie Pressley, Jon Favreau and Sarah Burns' mean, irritating characters for friends. They're among the very few faults of the film in that it's nearly impossible to suspend disbelief long enough to imagine someone like her would be spending time with them, then turn around and criticize Peter's new choice of BFF.

Like Role Models before it, this is an Apatow movie through and through regardless of whose name is on the credits. And that's not a bad thing. It makes even more sense when you consider that Hamburg cut his chops as a writer on Apatow's short-lived Fox series, Undeclared. This is an example of a textbook comedy that takes very few wrong steps and while you won't be rolling on the floor, it is consistently enjoyable from beginning to end. It's definitely the kind of movie you easily plop down nine bucks to see at a theater without guilt, and if you waited for DVD, even better. I'm almost tempted to rate it higher since it does almost nothing wrong but it just doesn't reinvent the wheel and isn't the type of movie that holds up on repeated viewings. Although that hardly matters in a genre where the bar is generally set pretty low, despite being raised considerably these past couple of years. It's the performances of Rudd and Segal that really make I Love You, Man worthwhile, extending the streak of smart, edgy rom-coms that find a clever way to appeal to all audiences.

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