Posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 by David Chen
John Hamburg’s latest film, I Love You, Man, is a paean to the joys of male friendship. But as celebratory as it is of the emotional intimacy between males, it’s also firmly rooted in the unique challenges of male bonding in modern American society. It’s hard out there for your typical male, the movie seems to say, and male friendship can only be won and kept through hard work and at least a little bit of luck.
Real estate salesman Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is about to get married to the love of his life, Zooey (Rashida Jones). But as the wedding day approaches and Peter contemplates who his best man will be, he’s forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t have that many close male friends. His attempts to find a friend prove ill-advised until, at an open house for Lou Ferrigno’s (playing himself) house, he meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segal), a laid-back, fun-loving investor. The two hit it off, but as their friendship develops, it begins to bring out aspects of Peter that Zooey never knew existed.
I saw I Love You, Man in a theater full of college kids, many of whom consumed alcohol throughout the proceedings thanks to a convenient local liquor license. As you can imagine, this is probably the optimal environment for such a film; there was uproarious laughter all the way through, and even the jokes that fell flat were hard not to smile at when there were hundreds of howling people surrounding me. The movie shares a lot of characteristics with some of the recent Judd Apatow comedies: Long, improvisational exchanges, raunchy sex-related humor, and a boatload of painfully awkward moments that are inflicted upon the protagonist. In other words, if you liked what you saw in the trailers, then this movie will probably be a great time for you.
The ensemble cast is good all-around. Paul Rudd is perfect as the straight man whose staid demeanor undercuts his true talent, and his relationship with Jason Segal’s character is both plausible and positively heartwarming. Rashida Jones, who I always appreciated in The Office, does an excellent job with the material that’s given to her, which, unfortunately, is not that much. And minor appearances by Jaime Pressley, Jon Favreau, J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, The Human Giant crew, Rush, and many others round out the film with hilarious results.
But what I appreciated most was the way that the film captured the modern American male condition with thought and humor. On the whole, when men get married, study after study has demonstrated that they are more likely to depend more on their spouses for emotional support than they do on others, as opposed to females, who are typically able to maintain a more extensive social network. As a result, widowed men experience higher rates of depression and shorter periods until remarriage. When you couple this with conclusions such as those found in sociologists Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, you end up with a profound cynicism about the emotional life of the modern American male that’s become fairly pervasive in our culture (see: Fight Club). Putnam paints a pretty bleak picture of American social life, claiming that the ties that have bound us in our communities (e.g. bowling leagues) have withered dramatically to the detriment of civic engagement. In other words, these days, it’s difficult for men to keep quality male friends, and even harder for them to make new ones.
In I Love You, Man, many of these ideas are always lurking in the background. How does one make new male friends? What are the rules? What’s the protocol? Cold-calling strangers or even co-workers can be dicey, and inviting someone out to dinner can lead them to get the wrong idea, as we see when, after dinner at a nice restaurant, one of Klaven’s prospective male friends leans in for an intense french kiss. The movie revels in these tensions and brings them to light in a smart, sensitive and thought-provoking way, while still retaining the crass humor we’ve come to expect from R-rated comedies. It does for male friendship what Knocked Up did for modern parenthood, what The 40-Year Old Virgin did for modern sexuality. Despite its thoroughly predictable ending, it delivers on the promise of a great R-rated comedy and then some.
If there’s any major flaw that the film has, it’s that the love story between Peter and Zooey never really feels fully fleshed out. We don’t see enough of their chemistry, their joys, or their sorrows to really get a good sense of what the stakes are for their upcoming wedding. But in a movie that can be best described as a bromantic comedy, can you really expect any different?