March 23, 2009
Review in a Hurry: This comedy of manners, about the anxieties of modern male friendship, gets the balance of smarts and raunch exactly right. Plus, costars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel could not be more likeable, funny and on their game.
The Bigger Picture: What could easily have been a base-level gagfest about man hugs and beer pong is, in fact, a thoughtful exploration of intimacy and vulnerability with new friends and familiar lovers.
Consider: Is it OK to split a bottle of wine on the first outing? When is it cool to christen your buddy with a whacky nickname, like Pistol? Are you ever allowed to "poke" your guyfriend on Facebook?
These dilemmas sound mundane, but for Peter (Rudd) they create an anxious paralysis. When he starts planning his wedding with longtime girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), his lack of friends becomes troubling. The couple decides their future will be bleak if Rudd doesn't branch out and get some bros to buddy up with. After a series of comical misfires, shy, prudish Peter befriends the unflappably cool Sydney (Segel). Here, Segel is disarmingly charming and eerily genuine. Most importantly, when Peter continuously ties himself into socially awkward knots, Sydney is there to untangle him.
There are no generic characters or contrived plot points, and the tone of the film never devolves into anything mean-spirited. Indeed, it would be simple to make Zooey and her gaggle of girlfriends preening, nagging villains, but writer-director John Hamberg (Along Came Polly) provides the ladies with great quips and compassion. There are a handful of delicious cameos and bit parts, too, the best being John Favreau as a cock-sure bully.
Rudd's comedic timing seems Supernatural. He embodies his roles with total ease but remains disciplined in his delivery. Segel's humor isn't gimmicky, and his appeal is broader and could go deeper if he dips his toe into dramatic roles.
Together, the dynamic is irresistible. I Love You, Man claims another success of the now-familiar Apatowian formula-soft-hearted guys armed with wits and dick jokes-that's revitalized American comedy. (Oh, and for the record, Judd Apatow had nothing to do with this movie.)
The 180-a Second Opinion: The set up is fresh, but the end may seem predictable. If you're not won over by Peter and Sydney's bondfest, their man antics will seem drawn out and tedious