March 18, 2009

I Love You, Man

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Grade: B –

Director: John Hamburg

Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Sarah Burns, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressley, Andy Samberg, Jane Curtain, and J.K. Simmons

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

The delightfully uncomplicated (see also simplistic) I Love You, Man eagerly draws from the Judd Apatow casting pool and comedic tableau. Its import, however, does not flow from its mixed bag of sardonic wit, gross-out gags, and the way it playfully inverts the hoary rom-com genre. Instead, the film is indicative of the current state of movie comedies: the Apatow playbook run to exacting, rhythmic precision. While not officially touched by the comic Creator, the significance is that his disciples are now cranking out facsimiles like so much grist for the Hollywood mill. [Another critic recently wrote that “Apatow is beginning to look like the Johnny Appleseed of bad indie comedy.”] Next up: Adventureland from Superbad director Greg Mottola, and Seth Rogan’s Observe and Report by Foot Fist Way director Jody Hill, both dropping next month.

In the meantime, I Love You, Man is a formula-flipping tale about a friendless milquetoast and struggling L.A. realtor, Peter (Paul Rudd), whose fiancée, Zooey (Rashida Jones), pushes him into man-dates in search of a BFF and, hopefully, best man for their wedding. Enter Sydney (Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segel,), a Lebowski-esque layabout whose gonzo, devil-may-care attitude belies the same inner longing for male-bonding as Peter. Their platonic, borderline obsessive bromance, rife with reverence for (the band) Rush and walks along Venice Beach, threatens to hamper Peter’s pending nuptials and his vain efforts to sell Lou Ferrigno’s mansion (whose presence fully furnishes the script with a glut of Hulk jokes that run until the closing credits).

By design, Peter and Sydney is the film’s most charismatic coupling: the script crackles whenever Rudd and Segel share the screen and riff off each other’s pop-culture repartee. Moreover, the duo’s thematic shrewdness is a microcosm of a culture so shaped by girl-power that men like Peter find it easier to relate to women than act like – much less interact with – members of their own fraternity. However, Peter and Zooey’s comparative lack of sizzle is symptomatic of a screenplay too preoccupied with infantile homo-hilarity and recurring gags focused around dog poop and Peter’s social anxiety (Rudd’s solo ad libbing grows tiresome whenever Segel isn’t around to play comedian to his straight man). Only a bickering married couple played by Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressley augment the humor; seriously, isn’t it high time that the quick-witted Pressley gets cast as the lead in a feature film comedy?

Director John Hamberg uses this project to boost a big-screen resume previously highlighted by the Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston clunker Along Came Polly and penning Stiller’s Focker series. Admittedly, whenever Russ and Segel share the screen, I Love You, Man is cooking with gas. The rest of the time, it’s merely an amuse-bouche whetting your appetite for another bona fide Apatow entrée.

Neil Morris

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