And I thought they would never be able to come up with more above-average "bromantic" comedies after last year's Pineapple Express.
While Judd Apatow's name is nowhere to be found on the list of credits for I Love You, Man, many will recognize the fact that John Hamburg is clearly aiming for a similar brand of comedy in his latest cinematic offering, which features a seamless mix of sweetness and raunchiness. The only difference, which many will appreciate, is that I Love You, Man stays well under the 2-hour mark. However, since this film is pretty much laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, the extra 20 minutes probably wouldn't have hurt it in the least bit (in fact, the short bits of the wedding reception that we see while the credits are rolling make us wish we had actually gotten to see more of it, and that's nothing but a compliment to this wonderfully amusing movie).
Peter (Paul Rudd) is a real estate agent who doesn't have any guy friends at all, and has recently focused most of his social life on his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones). Peter's seemingly strange social life isn't really that unorthodox or a contrivance on the film's part; plenty of guys out there have similar situations, and don't have a "group of dudes" that they hang out with. Upon getting engaged to Zooey, Peter finds that he needs a best man, and he becomes even more aware of this as he secretly listens in on a girls' conversation between Zooey and her group of friends, in which they talk about his lack of male friends (a great scene, with perfect comedic timing and dead-on awkwardness). So, in an effort to remedy this, Peter goes on a series of man-dates, all of which are every bit as disastrously bad and embarrassing for Peter as they are delightfully hilarious for the audience to watch. Having no success, Peter has a chance encounter with Sydney (Jason Segel), while trying to sell the house of real-life actor Lou Ferigno (who actually plays himself in the film, and has more than just a cameo). Sydney appears to be both sweet and creepy at the same time (something that few actors, Jason Segel obviously being one of them, can pull off so well), but the two guys hit it off, and yes, this marks the start of their, um, "bromantic" relationship.
The fact that I Love You, Man is very good is entirely due to Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. One thing I was very scared of prior to watching it was that the movie would simply take standard conventions from other romantic comedies we've seen and simply apply them to this movie with the twist of it being two guy friends instead of a male/female relationship, which would've felt uninventive, but this is far from the case, thanks to the absolute hilarity of the dialogue these two share. The very funniest moments of the film are whenever Sydney says something that is clearly witty/cool and then Peter tries to reply with an equally witty/cool remark and fumbles miserably. There's no doubt that the filmmakers recognized what a strong comedic point this is because there are tons and tons of instances of it, and not for a second does it get old. This is largely thanks to the fact that this is Rudd's best comedic performance to date: he's uproariously funny. When Peter gets into awkward moments, we die laughing, but we also cringe because we care about him - that's what great humorous acting should achieve. Segel isn't far behind, and he's clearly on a roll after last year's equally funny Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The average mediocre comedy would render Sydney an annoying character whose sole purpose in the movie is to put a strain on the main character's relationship with his girlfriend, but this isn't the case with the great way in which Segel plays him, which recalls the actor's excellent comedic work years ago on the TV show Freaks & Geeks.
I guess another (unfortunate) difference between what we normally get from Apatow's movies and the material in I Love You, Man is that while Apatow's films normally boast a great supporting cast that is often even better than the leads (as was the case in Knocked Up), this film's supporting cast does little to buttress the comedy. Zooey's two main friends, Hailey and Denise, are played by Sarah Burns and Jaime Pressly respectively, and neither does much for the movie. They seem to try for a subplot involving Hailey and Sydney getting together, which doesn't go anywhere, but nothing much that's funny happens in the attempt to go somewhere, and as for Denise, the film does have a subplot involving her relationship with husband Barry (Jon Favreau), which is that of a bitter couple who fight all the time and then apparently have wild make-up sex, but neither of the two gives a performance that makes their scenes anything special (Favreau, in particular, simply goes for playing an angry, gruff guy, and doesn't get many laughs out of it). What disappointed me more in terms of the supporting cast, though, is that the considerable comedic talents of Andy Samberg and J.K. Simmons (both of whom have had us on the floor laughing in other productions they've been in) are underused in the film, especially J.K. Simmons, who has very little screen time (which both surprised and saddened me). Comedies need at least two or three effective supporting characters who can elicit a solid amount of laughs, and despite the high caliber of Rudd and Segel's work, this is the lacking that keeps I Love You, Man from the realm of greatness.
Still, it's inevitable to rejoice in the fact that the on-screen chemistry of the film's two leads and the script's inventiveness make I Love You, Man the first remarkable movie of 2009, and its best comedy to date. While Pineapple Express remains at the "apex of the vortex" of what we're now calling the "bromantic" comedy, this film is a strong addition to the list. It's also a reminder that even though brainless hacks like Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg keep making "comedies" that somehow are greenlit by film studios, there are still filmmakers out there who know how to bring superb comedic material to the multiplex screen.