Photo from Lycoming College yearbook The Arrow, 1984
I have my share of pointless prejudices when it comes to funny movies. I like comedy, and I'm fairly easy to please, but I stop get pretty finicky when it comes to really broad humor and slapstick. I'd like to say that I get turned off by easy low-brow humor, but it probably has more to do with me being insecure about liking "dumb" movies. So along comes I Love You, Man, a comedy co-written by the man responsible for the Meet the Parents movies and the man responsible for the Dr. Doolittle movies. Now, I didn't find those movies very funny, but I'm interested in I Love You, Man. Why? I guess it's the "Apatow Effect".
Judd Apatow is the director of "Freaks and Geeks", The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up, and certain actors, writers, and directors have become associated with the vibe found in Apatow's work. But it's not a vibe that is easy to pin down. What do Pineapple Express (stoner action), Superbad (coming-of-age), and Knocked Up (preggo comedy) have in common? It's more than a myopic focus on the modern male experience, I think. For me, the appeal has to do with how these movies hone in on an approach to comedy I enjoy, paired with a relationship-related theme I can relate to.
I Love You, Man is about making friends as an adult, particularly platonic male friendship. John Hamburg's direction is pedestrian, but the writing and particularly the two leads make the difference. Paul Rudd is perfectly believable as Peter, the man who has never had close male friends. It's not that he's effeminate as much as he seems like the kind of guy that prefers to focus his energy on women. And Jason Segel has pretty much cornered the market on "likeably creepy", so he's great as Sydney, the eccentric guy who's always looking for new guy friends. In telling the story of a man who realizes he has no best man for his wedding, I Love You, Man finds humor in the fact that there are no established social rituals for a man to make friends with another man. Peter doesn't like any of his co-workers and has no close friends from school. In that situation, how do you make a friend? Hilarity ensues, that's how!
Rudd and Segel both specialize in awkwardness, physical and emotional and verbal, so their clumsy attempts to connect are almost too painful to watch. But I Love You, Man usually stays on the right side of the funny-embarrassing/painful-embarrassing line. Jon Favreau is great as one of the husbands from Peter's girlfriend's circle and J.K. Simmons has a few funny scenes as Peter's dad, but there are few other jokes outside of the Rudd-Segel relationship that work at all. And notice how I haven't even mentioned Rashida Jones yet? She is beautiful, obviously, but she doesn't really get a chance to make a difference as the fiancee, even when she's supposed to be the heavy in the film's final third. But that's all part of the "Apatow Effect" - female characters are treated unfairly, in that they are purposefully distanced from the film's emotional center. This was even true with Knocked Up, which was weird considering that it's a movie about pregnancy.
If you like Paul Rudd and/or Jason Segel, you will find things to like in this film. If you are not a fan of those actors or this whole "scene" of comedy, your mileage may vary. That's the best I can do because I have trouble understanding people not laughing at the same stuff I do. And there is some stuff here for the Meet the Parents fans. For instance, I didn't laugh at the scene where Paul Rudd projectile vomits on Jon Favreau. But I did laugh at the following scene where, he tries to describe the experience to his fiancee the next day.
Now, here's a song that challenges the premise of I Love You, Man, claiming that "Making friends is so damn easy!" I know that the songs I put on these movie reviews seem tacked on, but this is a good one.
"Making Friends" by Bishop Allen