Just as we thought the “bromantic comedy” had overstayed its welcome, the genre reaches its high point with I Love You, Man. The subtext is finally the text — it’s right there in the title. The movie delivers an absolutely complete, fully realized, delightfully novel redo of the hoariest of forms: the meet-cute, love-at-first-sight, break-up-and-make-up, racing-to-the-altar slapstick weepy that’s been a staple of cinema since the invention of cinema. Its arrival was inevitable.
You may be surprised to find that Judd Apatow’s name is absent from the credits, but I Love You, Man bears his indelible, now-inescapable stamp: from Jason Segel, who’s been playing a slovenly spastic Rush fan since genre touchstone Freaks and Geeks, and Paul Rudd, Apatow’s better-looking alter ego, to John Hamburg, who directed Segel’s first man-on-man hug during his three-episode run on Apatow’s Undeclared. So now, the circle is complete and at the end of the line — unless Segel, Rudd and Seth Rogen are willing to do gay porn.
Hamburg has tried his hand at standard-issue romantic comedy before: He directed Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in the awkward Along Came Polly and wrote Stiller’s Focker franchise. I Love You, Man is his first real success, if only for its honest — which is to say, sincere and crass and adorably sweet — depiction of mid-30s-to-late-40s male friendships forged on sex talk, alcohol and an affection for classic rock and Lou Ferrigno.
Rudd, playing the antithesis of his usual snarky self, is the rather nerdily named Peter Klaven, a luxury Realtor in Los Angeles, who dreams of one day building live-work lofts with a “neighborhoody dining area” in a former industrial space. He’s got the fiancée with the J.D. Salinger name — Zooey, played by Rashida Jones — who runs a never-busy pastel-painted boutique of some kind with her two best buds (Jaime Pressly and Sarah Burns). To complete his dream, Peter only needs to sell “the Ferrigno estate,” already setting up one of about 193 jokes you saw coming down the theater aisle.
It seems senseless to offer further plot points, as they’re all laid out in the trailer. Peter has no male friends to invite to the wedding — he goes on a few bad man-dates (one involving Thomas Lennon’s smoky tongue) and meets investor Sydney Fife (Segel) at Lou’s open house. The guys awkwardly bond and “Peter and Sydney” briefly threaten “Peter and Zooey,” but, really, who we kiddin’?
Hamburg fleshes out the film with smart surprises and sharp, knowing details: first dude-on-dude date jitters, ill-fated attempts at forced intimacy via nonsensical slang (“latres on the menges”), a Rush nightclub concert, guys forgetting girls hate Rush.
Half the genius is right in the casting: As odd couples go, Rudd and Segel are closer to Randall and Klugman than Lemmon and Matthau, but you get the point. Rudd has two speeds — fed up and pent up — and here, he employs the latter; Peter just can’t understand why Sydney would keep his masturbation station (table with lotion and tissues) out in the open at his Venice Beach man cave. He’s been raised by women: by his mother (Jane Curtin, who is not forced to play wacky or embarrassing) and by his series of girlfriends, who taught him that women like pirouettes (“from Pepperidge Farms”) in their root-beer floats. Meanwhile, Peter’s father (J.K. Simmons in too small a role) has two best friends — one of whom is his other son, a gay personal trainer played straight by an unusually and refreshingly restrained Andy Samberg.
Segel, last seen unable to keep his cock in his pocket in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, does, in fact, strike one as the kind of guy who’d keep a masturbation station out in the open. But in his own way, Sydney’s as sweet as Peter — more so, actually, as evidenced by an almost touching act of friendship toward the film’s end involving his attempts to make Peter the success he’ll never be all by his lonesome. And they lived happily ever after.
I LOVE YOU, MAN | Directed by JOHN HAMBURG | Written by HAMBURG and LARRY LEVIN, from a story by LEVIN | Produced by DONALD DE LINE and HAMBURG | Released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures | Citywide