Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Sarah Burns, J. K Simmons, Jaime Pressley, Jon Favreau
Plot: Peter (Rudd) is getting married to the love of his life (Jones), when he realises he has no male friends. Thus begins an ill-advised quest to woo a best man.
Let’s be honest, with the rom-com genre, it is hard not to feel like you’ve seen it all. We know the kind of thrills we want. Two loveable characters wind up working their way through thick and thin, against all obstacles, to fall in love. The only thing that changes is the set-up (their different backgrounds, the abrasive parents, Rachel McAdams or Zooey Deschanel). So Hamburg skips all of that. The very first scene in the film is Rudd proposing to his long-term girlfriend, essentially starting the film at the place it usually ends. No, Hamburg’s film is not about the relationship between groom and bride, but the bromance between Rudd and his best friend, or in this case, the lack of one.
Rudd has always been a friend of the girls, more comfortable with acting himself in the safe comfort of women, rather than getting involved in the laddish atmosphere of having male friends. Early scenes set up how heavy drinking and poker games don’t really do much for him. However, as the wedding day looms, Rudd realises how he hasn’t got any real friends. His wife is armed with an entourage of BFFs, who share every intimate detail with each other and are a tad weirded out by Rudd’s effeminate ways. Therefore, Paul Rudd’s journey in this film is not about making it to the wedding day with his relationship intact (with a few minor third act hiccups, Rudd and Jones remain doe-eyed over each other to the final frame), but in securing a male friend. And this is where I Love You, Man becomes really clever. Suddenly, we are treated to the same old rom-com, but turned on its head. Scenes are ripped right from the cliché playbook, but this time between two men rather than a couple. Rudd goes on blind dates that goes disastrously wrong. He trawls the internet for a potential friend. He awkwardly hangs by the phone, wondering when is too soon to call a probable mate back. And Hamburg successfully tells this story without it ever seeming contrived. The best thing about I Love You, Man is how natural it all feels. Suddenly, we realise just how weird maintaining a friendship with a bloke is. Men avoid personal conversation with a passion. We hate bonding with new people. They don’t like being called up by an acquaintance out of nowhere for a pint. As Andy Samberg’s character quips, you can’t just take a man out to dinner. It is an understandable difficult journey for Rudd’s character and in a film that could have come across as a gimmick, trying to be different, I Love You, Man cleverly plays to its strengths. The end result is a strong, solid comedy that mines the usual emotions from what was looking like an empty mine.
Of course, the other reason to love I Love You, Man is Paul Rudd finally getting that lead role. Rudd’s issue has always been that he fits into the best mate role too well. Ever since his debut in Friends, it has been clear he can hang on the side-lines of a story, not getting in the way, but allowing his natural charm and charisma to seep through, so he doesn’t come across as a spare part. It proved to be the benefit and downfall of his career. Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman all saw Rudd as the supporting star. Here, twinned with the better than you’d think Role Models, we see him as the lead man. And he works wonders. He is great at fitting into whatever role he is given, like a glove, never disturbing the story, but getting across that Paul Rudd vibe we go into his movies expecting. Here he is asked to be best friends with the ladies and awkward around the men, something that other actors like Carrell or Ferrell might have pushed too far. Rudd becomes one of the audience and that makes I Love You, Man a much stronger piece. At the same time, he plays with other sides of the story. Improv nicknames and jamming sessions scream ad-lib that perhaps only Paul Rudd could have come up with. He is not an actor drifting, but a comedian knowing how to get the most out of the piece. Jason Segel is also fantastic here, as the eventual best friend figure. Segel is always charming, another comedian that knows what his audiences come to see his work for. He plays to that, but layered with an interesting depiction of a flawed character. On first sight, Segel is the perfect best friend. Easy to talk to, honest, daring… he is the offbeat rogue that every rom-com needs. However, as the movie progresses, things don’t add up and this gives I Love You, Man its third act edge. Perhaps the movie is constricted to these two actors. Everyone else is relegated to the side-lines. And it’s not as though there is a bad performance among them; it’s just a movie that is so fixed on the relationship between Rudd and Segel that there isn’t time for much else. Rashida Jones is watchable as ever, but is struggling with the fact she is playing yet another ‘girlfriend’ figure. Other comedians are on form, but the bulk of the script means they get too few jokes each. J.K Simmons is an incredibly strong actor, but only given two real gags and left to fill out the background for the rest of the movie. Sarah Burns’ single and aggressive flirter character is great fun, but never really goes anywhere. You have your eye on characters like Samberg, but sadly they are a few jokes short of what they are worth. But perhaps focus on them would have weighed down the story. It is more of a missed chance for what could have been.
Final Verdict: I Love You, Man is a clever take on a tired genre that finds new material that genuinely amuses and entertains.