March 26, 2009

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I Love You, Man (R)
Paul Rudd is just a dude in search of a bro in the wonderfully sweet I Love You, Man, the latest in Judd Apatow-esque brom-coms.

“-esque” because the man himself is not involved but there are plenty of Apatow associates (Paul Rudd and Jason Segel among them) on the bill.

Peter Klaven (Rudd) is the guy many a girl dreams of — and he’s worked hard to be that way. Mature, understanding, willing to work on a relationship — he even knows how to give good wedding proposal. When he asks girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones) to marry him, he takes her to a beautiful spot overlooking the city that he hopes will be home to his first big professional success as a developer. She is overjoyed, says yes of course and proceeds to call her closest friends to let them know. And who do you need to call, she asks Peter? Eh, is his response. A dinner with Peter’s family more clearly underlines the situation: Peter, having spent so much time being a good boyfriend, does not have any dude-friends. He doesn’t even have someone to ask to be best man; he’s not even all that close with his brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), a personal trainer who is so dudely likeable that he can even woo the straight men he, Robbie, is hoping to date. Peter, on the other hand, is much better at developing female friendships — we see him telling the story of his proposal to the women, not his one male aquaintence, in the office.

As with any good romantic comedy, Peter’s attempt to find a Mr. Right (as in Mr. Right for the Job of Best Man) leads to a series of blind dates — set up by Robbie, set up by Peter’s mother (Jane Curtin) — with the goal of getting Peter some guy friends. Just when Peter would seem to give up, in walks Sydney (Segel). Peter meets Sydney at a house showing — Peter’s there to sell a mansion owned by Lou Ferrigno and jump-start his developer dreams, and Sydney is there for the free sandwiches and the possibility that he’ll meet a recently divorced woman looking for a new house and no-strings-attached good time. The boys hit it off and Peter blushingly calls Sydney to ask him out on a man date.

Paul Rudd practically owns the copyright on this kind of too-smart awkwardness. He’s perfect — slanging it up with nonsensical phrases in a desperate attempt to sound laid-back or actually getting his own name wrong on a voice mail message the first time he calls Sydney.

It’s not only hopelessly endearing, it nicely captures adult squeamishness about making new friends in this kind of purposeful way. After college — when making friends, at least of the casual kind, is as easy as bumping into somebody at a keg party — it can be difficult to set out to make friends, particularly if you are just looking for friends and not for a romantic relationship. But, as the movie shows, friends are part of the balance — not just that work-life thing but the couple-individual balance. Peter has become so focused on his membership in coupledom he has let the individual part of his life slide. Meanwhile Sydney is so determined to be individual that he is left behind as his other friends couple off. This is actually advanced storytelling stuff, and the movie manages to get it across fairly well without stopping to moralize. It plays with the romantic comedy conventions (even leading up to the requisite mad-dash to a wedding ceremony) but tweaks them, managing to keep a kind of sweetness without letting it go syrupy.

Of course, before I scare you away with all this talking of emotion and adult feelings, let me assure you that the movie is plenty funny. Segel and Rudd have wonderful dude chemistry but the real star pair is Jamie Pressly, who plays one of Zooey’s friends, and Jon Favreau, who plays her perpetually angry husband. Their bicker battles, usually decided with Pressly’s promise of sex later, are some of the movie’s best scenes even though they are slid in secondary to the main plot of Peter trying to find his man. And Samberg, though appearing in a relatively minor role, is surprisingly delightful every time he’s on screen, but particularly when accompanied by J.K. Simmons, who plays Peter and Robbie’s father (and who early on declares Robbie his best friend, prompting a Peter-excluding fist pound).

Sure, this bro-flavored comedy isn’t exactly untrodden ground, but I Love You, Man approaches its subject with sincerity as well as humor, observational comedy as well as slapstick, making it a more genuine article than the romantic comedies it initially appears to spoof. B+

Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references. Directed by John Hamburg and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin, I Love You, Man is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.