Two years ago, Justin Shubow wrote a fascinating and insightful article for National Review on the emerging trend of "bromantic" comedies, i.e., male buddy movies that follow the narrative template of a romantic comedy, even to the point of including scenes in which the two men declare their platonic love for one another, perhaps by saying something like "I love you, man." Looking at Wedding Crashers, Superbad and other films in this mini-genre, Shubow said the one thing they all lacked was the "meet cute," the scene in which the two buddies meet for the very first time. But now, at last, we have a film that follows the template from start to finish—and it is called, fittingly, I Love You, Man.

The film stars Paul Rudd as Peter Klaven, a man who, when we first meet him, has plenty of female friends, most of them casual, but no real male friends. This doesn't bother him at first—indeed, it seems he has never really even thought about it—but after he gets engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), he realizes that, whereas she has several friends to choose from for her half of the wedding party, he has pretty much none. And so, with some encouragement from his gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), Peter goes on a series of "man-dates," hoping to meet someone who can be best man at his wedding.

Jason Segel as Sydney, Paul Rudd as Peter

Jason Segel as Sydney, Paul Rudd as Peter

Things don't work out so well at first, and Peter is tempted to forget the whole thing, but then, one day, he meets a guy who could very well turn out to be the "right man." Peter, a real estate agent whose latest client is Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno, holds an open house for one of Ferrigno's homes, and there he meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a friendly, casual, easygoing guy whose ability to read the body language of total strangers could rival that of Sherlock Holmes. Peter and Sydney exchange business cards, and the next thing Peter knows, he's working up the courage to phone Sydney and leave him a voice-mail—a voice-mail that will, of course, turn out to be hilariously awkward.

Fortunately for Peter, Sydney returns the call and the two of them begin to hang out—a fact that pleases Zooey and amuses her friends, one of whom, Denise (Jaime Pressly), teases Peter by saying that he has a "boyfriend." (This prompts a quick, snappy and funny exchange between Denise and another friend of Zooey's, played by Sarah Burns, which I won't spoil here.) Tensions begin to rise, though, as the time Peter spends with his new buddy eats into the time he would have spent with the woman he's about to marry, and as Sydney begins to take an embarrassingly proactive role in Peter's life (including, among other things, publicly giving Zooey advice on how to improve her sex life with Peter).

Sydney confronts a man who didn't pick up after his dog

Sydney confronts a man who didn't pick up after his dog

Because the film celebrates male friendship, because it co-stars Rudd and Segel (who previously worked together on Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and because it features a fair bit of coarse humor (lots of four-letter words, a dog pooping on the sidewalk, a man drinking beer so fast he vomits in someone's face), many people will inevitably associate it with the recent spate of Judd Apatow movies. But Apatow had nothing to do with this one, and in some ways it's almost an improvement on his work.

For one thing, there is no nudity (sex is talked about, often, but never shown), and for another, the film's depiction of women and the relationships men have with them is a little healthier. In Knocked Up, Rudd played a man who has to sneak away from his shrewish, nagging wife in order to spend time with his friends; but here, he plays a man whose fiancée encourages him to spend time with his friend, so much so that he fails to notice, at first, when he may be abusing this freedom. Even the intensely argumentative relationship between Denise and her gruff husband Barry (Jon Favreau, a scene-stealing actor best-known nowadays for directing Iron Man) seems to "function," on some level.

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Zooey (Rashida Jones) and Peter toast

Zooey (Rashida Jones) and Peter toast

What is more, the film subtly, implicitly recognizes that marriage is more than just a more formal way of shacking up; there is also at least the potential for children and greater maturity on the part of the couple. Sydney has no interest in marriage—he says he dates middle-aged divorcées because they want nothing more than a fling, just like him—and his home is practically a shrine to prolonged adolescence. But even as Sydney helps Peter to rediscover the passions of his youth, like playing bass and going to Rush concerts, you can't help thinking that Sydney is missing out on something, as his other friends decline his invitations because they have to spend time with their kids, and so forth.

Some may object that the film is preposterously contrived: surely, if a man like Peter had no close male friends, he could just let his brother be the best man at his wedding; and surely, if a man like Peter had only a few months to plan his wedding, he would not be able to turn a complete stranger into one of his best buddies so quickly. But I think these premises work if we accept them as a conscious twist on the conventions of other movies. Going back at least as far as Groundhog Day and Disney's Beauty and the Beast, there have been countless stories about people who need to persuade someone to fall in love with them within a relatively short period of time; so if I Love You, Man merely asks that the two characters become good friends, then that doesn't seem so implausible, really. (In 2007, the French film My Best Friend featured a protagonist who had to find a "true" friend in a hurry.)

Best buddies, rockin' out

Best buddies, rockin' out

More significantly, the premise works because the film sells it emotionally. There's a scene early on in which Peter comes home, sees Zooey hanging out with several of her friends, and sneaks into the kitchen to prepare a treat for all of them—and it is only when he steps up to the door, holding some drinks on a tray, that he overhears the women discussing him and his lack of friends. Rudd, an actor best-known these days for his comic roles, captures the mix of emotions on Peter's face beautifully, and from that point on, I had no trouble whatsoever believing that Peter might go to unusual lengths to rectify this problem.

Directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) from a script he wrote with Larry Levin (the Doctor Dolittle remake and its sequel), I Love You, Man is a bit of a mess, and some of its ideas are not developed as well as they could have been, but it's funny more often than not, and at times it has real heart. If you can handle the R-rated language and a few gross sight gags, it could be just the ticket for either a romantic date or a guys' night out.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. How are friendships similar to or different from other kinds of relationships? What do you make of the way the film portrays marriage (with its potential for children, etc.) versus friendship (within which characters sometimes don't act so maturely)?

  2. What examples can we find in Scripture of close friendships? Think of Ruth and Naomi, or David and Jonathan, or even, perhaps, Jesus and "the beloved disciple." What can we learn from these relationships?

  3. A recurring theme in this film is the notion of "boundaries." Zooey's friends know a lot about her private life with Peter, yet Zooey objects when Peter's friend Sydney becomes privy to some of this information; likewise, Sydney objects when Peter tells Zooey about a conversation that took place between the two guys. How do you know when things are supposed to stay between two people? Are secrets between friends the same as secrets between lovers or a married couple?


The Family Corner

For parents to consider

I Love You, Man is rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references to masturbation, oral sex and other activities, both in and out of marriage. A straight man says he makes a point of dating divorcées because they don't expect commitment, while a gay man says he makes a point of coming on to married men because he likes the challenge. The film also includes scenes of a dog pooping on the sidewalk, a man vomiting on another man after drinking too much beer at once, and a woman vomiting on her husband.

What other Christian critics are saying:
  1. Plugged In
  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

I Love You, Man
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
 
(11 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references)
Genre
Directed By
John Hamburg
Run Time
1 hour 45 minutes
Cast
Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones
Theatre Release
March 20, 2009 by DreamWorks/Paramount
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