The newly minted “bromance” genre, with its now-familiar mix of the sweet, awkward and raunchy, has entered the cultural consciousness through comedies like “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and “Role Models.”
But it reaches its zenith with “I Love You, Man,” starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as completely different guys who form an unlikely friendship.
Rudd’s Peter Klaven, a sensitive Los Angeles real estate agent who’s about to get married, realizes he has no male pals when it’s time to choose a best man. He’d rather make root beer floats for his fiancee Zooey (the lovely Rashida Jones) and her girlfriends or cuddle with her on the couch for Sunday-night HBO viewing.
Segel’s Sydney Fife enters his life as the most charming force of nature, inspiring Peter to jam along to Rush tunes and tap into his inner rage. He lives in a ramshackle Venice bungalow and functions by his own set of rules, which includes wooing divorcees at open houses and refusing to pick up after his puggle because he thinks dog feces are a healthy part of the environment. Segel gives the character a well-intentioned puppy-doggishness of his own, though, which makes him unexpectedly likable.
The formula is pretty predictable from director John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”), who co-wrote the script with Larry Levin, as well as the conflict that inevitably arises when Zooey questions their closeness. But the beauty of it lies both in the details of the relationship and the larger chemistry Rudd and Segel share. Clearly the two ad-libbed a lot of their lines, including a running gag in which Peter is incapable of saying goodbye or getting off the phone gracefully: “I will see you then or I will see you on another time,” for example. When the DVD comes out, there will probably be an entire second disc of the stars just riffing.
But beyond the goofy comedy, this is a bold concept to explore in a movie that’s so obviously intended for the mainstream, and for teens and twentysomething men in particular. “I Love You, Man” dares to get to the heart of intimate male friendships — or even, as the title suggests, love — the kind of thing most guys don’t exactly feel comfortable discussing. There’s an earnestness that’s refreshing, and a relatable quality to Peter’s vulnerability as he struggles to say the cool thing or give Sydney a spontaneous nickname. He could have come off as pathetic; instead, Rudd is so capable both with his comic timing and his subtlety, he makes us root for Peter instead.
We’re onto something true and honest here, which is why it’s so disappointing to see the film repeatedly cater to the lowest common denominator with vomit and flatulence jokes. It also squanders the talents of veterans Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons in barely-there supporting parts as Peter’s parents. Jon Favreau and Jamie Pressly also co-star as a longtime couple who bicker incessantly. (It is fun, though, to see Favreau play the arrogant jerk for a change and not the needy mensch.)
“I Love You, Man” didn’t need all that obvious, crass stuff. To paraphrase another sensitive male, it had us at hello.