I wish I could say that the male bonding found in “bromance” (or “bromantic comedies”) movies is way off the mark, but as a 20-something post-collegiate male whom the movies are aimed at, I’m sad to report that they mostly nail 21st century male bonding on the head. It’s not like my friends and I don’t spend time talking about the US’ uneven trade relationships with Asia, whether Obama’s health care plan will fail, our feelings, or the annual rainfall in Saharan Africa. It’s just that most of our bonding time is spent acting like we’re 14-years-old, brash, and irresponsible when we’re anything but, all while unleashing a deluge of penis jokes that would make Judd Apatow blush.
For all the genre’s failings (essentially selling thinly plotted romantic comedies to men by calling them something different) they at least got the two 20-something guys talking alone in a room part right.
I Love You, Man is actually the first film to be directly promoted as a “bromance”, which is sort of like a punk band calling itself punk, but you could probably toss in any movie under the Apatow banner (Superbad being the best), or any film starring or co-starring Paul Rudd since 2005. Writer-Director John Hamburg actually had the idea for I Love You, Man years ago, but since it might have been misconstrued as a gay male romance film, he sat on the idea until it became clear that it would fit into the burgeoning “bromance” genre.
I Love You, Man, out now on DVD with the standard issue extras package of a commentary, short gag reel, and mildly funny deleted and extended scenes, tells the story of tightly wound real estate agent Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd, who has just gotten engaged to girlfriend Zooey (played by Rashida Jones). Peter experiences some mild panic after getting engaged when he realizes that he doesn’t have as many guy friends as Zooey has girl friends, and then sets out to find someone to be his best man.
After some disastrous man-dates (including one where Reno 911!’s Thomas Lennon tries to make out with him), he meets Sydney Fife (played by Jason Segel) at an open house, and the two begin an awkward courtship that mirrors every wacky-girl, straight-laced guy romantic comedy ever made.
Through Sydney, Peter gets to have the irresponsible early-manhood he never experienced because he was too focused on his girlfriends. Sydney teaches Peter to loosen up by getting him drunk, joining a Rush cover band with him, and generally getting Peter to act like he’s not an engaged, 30-year-old with full-time employment. When he becomes sure Sydney is ruining his life, Peter breaks it off, and anyone who has seen a romantic comedy knows what happens next: the two have a tearful reunion at Peter’s wedding where they tell each other they love each other.
That rote plot should have made I Love You, Man a pretty weak film, but Segel and Rudd work so well together that that I Love You, Man is better than it has any right to be. Segel, who is maybe the most underrated comic actor in cinema right now, is the film’s real star. While fellow Freaks and Geeks alum Seth Rogen has become a star, Segel, who has mastered the ability to be hokily earnest and goofily endearing (he’s like your dumb kid brother), is just now getting his big shot 10 years after he showed all the talents he’s showing now. There’s a depressing undercurrent to Sydney’s easy-going lifestyle (mainly that all his friends have families, and he’s cruising open houses for wealthy divorcees), and Segel pulls it off wonderfully.
Rudd plays the awkward straight man very well, particularly when Peter’s male bonding social skills are revealed as hopelessly deficient. The pregnant pauses in the scenes where Peter tries to come up with a nickname for Sydney and leaves an embarrassingly long voicemail message on Sydney’s phone have a natural feel, leading to moments of uncomfortable viewing. You feel Peter’s crushed hopes for male friendship when he repeatedly nearly blows his relationship with Sydney.
But because I Love You, Man is helmed by Hamburg, who made his bucks with trite comedies like the Meet the Parents movies and Along Came Polly (a movie that’s almost exactly like I Love You, Man minus Jennifer Aniston), Segel and Rudd’s work, and much of the film’s accrued charm, is undone by a reliance on cheap repeating gags and useless characters introduced for toss-away jokes. The fact that Segel doesn’t clean up his dog’s poop is mentioned three times too many, because people stepping in dog poop is apparently the funniest thing ever.
Andy Samberg plays Peter’s gay personal trainer brother who is only interested in pursuing married straight men, and this gets old the second Samberg mentions it. Human Giant’s Rob Huebbel plays Peter’s super-tanned competitor at the real estate company they work for who promotes himself like crazy (including with urinal cakes), which is supposed to be comical, somehow, because trying to be recognized makes you a jerk. The State’s Joe Lo Truglio is one of Peter’s man dates, and the only reason he’s in the movie is to show off a creaky voice, which again, is supposed to be uproariously hilarious.
But because Segel and Rudd, who are Apatow theatre players, were involved, I Love You, Man was expected to be better than any movie directed by the writer of Meet the Fockers realistically could be. At its heart, I Love You, Man isn’t a new twist on the romantic comedy; it’s exactly the same lame stuff Hollywood has been selling for years, but with an extra Y chromosome.