I Love You, Man is a funny film about discomfort that would be funnier if it dared to knock the audience out of its comfort zone. It's ostensibly about the differences between close male friends and tribal buddies as well as the gap between men and their wives and lovers.
But it's mostly about the canny confectionary skills that go into making a smash sitcomlike farce. It's like a Judd Apatow comedy given the unyielding pace and invariably neat wrap-up of a '90s hit like Friends.
At one point, the script riffs on the HBO ad line, "It's not TV, it's HBO." I Love You, Man is not a full-fledged movie, and it's not HBO, either.
This comedy of stereotypes pokes fun at poker buddies and coffee klatches only to make room for variations on more recent stereotypes. Some of the boldest 'types provide the funniest bits, such as Jon Favreau's embodiment of an upscale Stanley Kowalski who treats all-male card games as clan rites.
The hero (Paul Rudd) is a metrosexual who's more like a suburbansexual - his idea of bliss is staying at his squeaky-clean home and sharing wine, salad and Chocolat with his girlfriend. The man who becomes his mentor in masculinity (Jason Segel) is a well-heeled loafer who's the consummate city slacker, complete with a for-men-only clubhouse he refers to as "the man-cave."
Together, they forge a no-holds-barred adult male friendship. It's only momentarily threatened by, or threatening to, the hero's dream of proper nuptial bliss. The movie would have more sting and a bigger heart if the threats were genuine or lasting.
The casting, though, couldn't be improved. Rudd pulls off one of his micro-crafted Mr. Nice Guys as Peter Klaven, a Los Angeles real estate agent who's previously poured all his energies into his male-female relationships. Segel partners him with virtuoso slobbiness and confidence as Sydney Fife, a mysterious investments whiz who lives a funky, contented bachelorhood in bohemian Venice Beach.
Although they don't shack up, it's The Odd Couple all over again, with Felix and Oscar refitted for the new millennium. But Rudd's fine-tuning brings Peter a broadband configuration of verbal gaffes and Freudian shticks, and Segel imbues Sydney with a cosmic self-regard that could easily be mistaken for mystic wisdom.
Peter pushes this friendship because he's rushing into marriage with his current lover, Zooey (Rashida Jones). The setup of Peter's going on several "man-dates" to find a best man simply replays the dating montages of chick-flicks in boy-boy drag. Then Peter meets Sydney and rapport pours out all over the place - and John Hamburg, the director, brings their byplay a sureness and spark lacking in his previous hit, Along Came Polly. The presences of Lou Ferrigno, as Peter's prime client, and Andy Samberg as Peter's gay brother, fit into the sitcomy crazy quilt.
Peter has talent, taste and intelligence but no confidence; Sydney, surprisingly, has all that, too, as well as an unremitting chutzpah and an unrelenting focus on his own needs. When Sydney makes the obligatory embarrassing engagement-dinner toast, he does say something real: that Peter is special because he gives good things without expecting anything in return. (Sydney expects camaraderie on tap.)
It's too bad that this statement becomes part of a running joke on oral sex. But the whole movie is like that: a shrewd balancing act between organic and artificial laughs. Even when it swings low, it connects.
I Love You, Man
(DreamWorks) Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references. Time 105 minutes.