April 3, 2009

A Great Movie to See on a Man Date

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Paul Rudd has managed to make himself the common denominator in almost every successful comedy since Anchorman. Since first showing up in 1995’s Clueless, he has surfed the undercurrent, playing the pleasant-faced guy with just enough issues to remain unpredictable and unforgivingly funny.
He’s so good that he doesn’t even need help from Judd Apatow. Using last year’s Role Models as an example, it’s amazing how Rudd’s presence and timing can make a comedy feel like that school of subtly sophisticated sex jokes and raunchy feel-good film.
I Love You, Man has a lot of those qualities. It has a simple premise: Sensitive guy realizes he has no male friends and sets out to court one to become his best man at his quickly-approaching wedding. This isn’t the Sundance-style indie that leaves the viewer wondering if the main character, Peter Klaven (Rudd) will succeed. That’s a given. The tension comes from the timeline and subject matter. Peter has until his wedding day, and that mild temporal calamity keeps the movie rolling.
Before proposing, Peter was a character completely content with just female companionship, enjoying his job as a middle-tier Hollywood real estate agent and his romance with his girlfriend / best friend-turned-fiancée, Zooey (the stunning Rashida Jones, playing against her usual go-getter from TV’s The Office and Wanted). Peter went to his mom for advice on relationships, and only hung out with his gay brother Robbie (SNL’s Andy Samberg) at the gym where Robbie works.
Nothing wrong with that, right? But Peter gets tired of Zooey defending him to her friends, oddball characters like the clingy Hailey (Sarah Burns) and the love-hate-marriage-saddled Denise (Jaime Pressly). They fear that Peter’s sensitivity and lack of male friends will lead to clinginess and dependency. So, Peter sets out to go on “man-dates,” and the fun begins. Because Peter settles on Sydney Fife (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
The audience knows where this road will take them. It’s the view out the car window that is so spectacular. The conflicts are expected, the outcome is expected. But Rudd’s talent and originality bounce off Segel’s improvisational ability and the perfect comedic notes ring loud and true. Peter and Sydney head off to bond with hilarious results.
Things to look out for (and forward to): the most awkwardly hilarious wedding toast of the year (along with Rachel Getting Married), the best realty ad campaign in film history, the funniest bipolar marriage ever (courtesy of Jaime Presley and Iron Man director Jon Favreau as the wacky couple) and Paul Rudd’s uproarious failed attempts to “guy-speak” and throw in slangy lingo into conversations.
What’s amazing is the intelligence of a lot of the jokes and the writing. Sydney is an investor and Peter is in real estate. When they first meet at an open house and have a dialogue on the matter, it reflects both their knowledge of their respective fields. When they transition to a discussion regarding farting, their observances are as sharp and truthful as they are gut-busting. The two bond over music by Rush (who make their first-ever film appearance, a subtle nod to Segel’s character on TV’s Freaks and Geeks), possibly one of the most geekily cerebral prog-rock bands out there. When the two are sharing their feelings for one another, installing the prefix “bro-” into as many portmanteaus as possible (ex: “bro-mance”), one of the responses to a two-minute volley is “Tycho Bro-he.” It smarts! Even the name of Sydney’s dog is a coiled reference that gets funnier with each close-up of the dog’s face until the joke is shared at the end.
Most importantly, after all the clever references and priceless scenes, we’re left with some keen observations on relationships, especially straight male relationships. All the things Peter has trouble with in “being a guy” send up stereotypes of what society expects of men today. Bonding over a power-hour or The Devil Wears Prada? The film celebrates manhood without extolling chauvinism. Sydney might be the perfect “bro” candidate, but he never behaves like any of Dane Cook’s movie characters. The film’s homosexuals are represented as individuals with hopes and desires, not caricatures. And what’s most touching is the triangle between Peter, Sydney and Zooey. Through one man’s closest relationships, careful testament is given to the complexity of platonic relationships, especially in today’s world of Facebook News Feeds and instant text messaging, where privacy and intimacy feel like they’re fading fast. This movie believes that people can change and grow and still trust in others and themselves while doing it.
This movie is also a perfect date film for straight male couples.