So the term Bromance has been on people’s lips a lot lately. Is it because movies about male fraternal friendship are a lot funnier in this day and age or is it because the actors playing the bros are funnier than we are used to? Hurm, lets scratch our heads on that one a moment.
Head scratching concluded. The notion of a Bromantic comedy has sprung up alongside films like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Role Models, and Pineapple Express. All of them (except maybe Pineapple) involve dudes preoccupied with their tail-chasing pursuits but crestfallen without a good buddy to have along for the ride. Keep in mind that all of these movies have starred, in different permutations, the same troupe of comedic actors (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill) all of whom have been reared, in one way or another, by the big poppa czar of our comedic zietgeist, writer/director/producer/funnyman Judd Apatow. Most of these dudes cut their teeth on Apatow’s brilliant but failed forays into television, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, and have remained tight with the boss, and each other, ever since.
What we have now is essentially another rendition of the buddy movie. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover fought bad guys with berettas and six guns in Lethal Weapon, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill went after girls with a rod in their pants and a bag of booze in their hands in Superbad. Both deployed their missions with maximum gusto, but still wound up in each others’ arms at the end (quite literally in both cases). This recent run of buddy movies from Team Apatow have been so sexually explicit that ignoring the obvious homo-erotic undercurrents between the male protagonists has been next to impossible. Does the Bromance have much relevance to the culture beyond a set of funny actors who are popular right now? Not really, but it sure is interesting to act like it does, right?
I think what we are seeing now is simply a set of films being made by, generally, the same group of guys, many of whom are very close, and have tried to bring the quality of their real life relationships to many of their characters (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, writers of both Superbad and Pineapple Express and best friends since childhood, have admitted as much about Superbad, in which the lead characters bear their names). Most of these films also haven’t stopped to examine the implications of their Bromantic nature, unless it’s in passing as comedic fodder (the entire last scene of Pineapple Express springs to mind).
I Love You, Man, which opened yesterday, portrays its two male heroes in a light similar to the films that preceded it, but is a lot more self-aware and has a lot of fun parodying the boy-meets-girl scenario with a platonic rendition of boy-meets-boy. It must be said that this is not an Apatow movie, having been directed adeptly by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) and written by Hamburg and Larry Leven, but based on the fact that it stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, it might as well be. A piece like this is defined by the flavor of the actors, and these guys never seem to venture far from the clubhouse of Judd.
Not a dig against Hamburg at all. The setup in this movie is masterful. Rudd plays Peter (fanboy musing: Segel played a dude named Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, much in the same vein of schmuckery), an L.A. real estate guy who has just proposed to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones). They seem happy enough, but the compilation of the wedding party poses a problem: Peter, who has spent most of his time focused on females, has left himself without a close male friend for a best man.
This problem prompts a series of clumsy attempts at male fraternizing. Peter, who has lost all ability to interact comfortably with guys, hits one wall after another; his gay brother (Andy Samberg) introduces him to a soccer fanatic (Joe Lo Truglio) who is set on being as obnoxious as possible at every game. A man-date set up (Thomas Lennon) ends a platonic evening with a grimace-inducing french at the curb. And angry Barry (Jon Favreau), the husband of Zooey’s best friend, tolerates Peter during a guys’ night of cards and beers, until a drinking contest leaves him covered in Peter’s projectile vomit (great timing on that moment; “that really happens,” Peter tells Zooey later).
Sidney (Segel), whom Peter meets at a real estate open house he throws, personifies all you could want in a man-friend–smooth, cool, uninhibitedly honest, and proudly womanizing. Indicating a career in investments (though we never see him spend a day at work), Sidney spends most of his time sprawled out in the garage behind his house, the “man-cave,” decked out with about five T.V.’s, lots of rock instruments, and even a masturbation chair with a steady supply of condoms and lube (“Do you put the condoms away when women come over?” Peter asks him. “No women in the man cave,” Sidney replies).
Indeed, Sidney is so cool that we start to fear awful possibilities. This type of character is so often played as a loud, innappropriate lout ala-Stifler, and there are moments where we fear Segel will go there (an embarassing toast at Peter’s engagement party gives us cause for alarm). But the victory of Segel’s performance is not only that he is funny, but that he brings sincerity and truth to Sidney, whose hedonism comes less from frat-boy nostalgia and more from fine-tuned individuality.
Because this is a romantic comedy we know that certain problems must arise; Zooey has to feel threatened by Sidney and Peter’s friendship and the boys have to come to the brink of collapse. Even though all of this does happen in the same formulaic way you would expect it to, Rudd and Segel play things with so much irony that you forgive the film for its convention. Also, Rashida Jones, unknown to me up until now, is absolutely spot-on as Zooey, a character we would expect to absolutely hate, but plays her character with such honesty and rationality that, even when we reach the point in the story where she and Peter must start to have problems, we can completely understand her perspective.
This is also a credit to the screenplay by Hamburg and Leven, which populates the film with tons of interesting comic characters to complement the leads, much like Apatow’s films. Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons absolutely murder as Peter’s parents, the ladder of which has befriended his gay son, Samberg, and has no problems discussing his sexual habits at the dinner table. Samberg himself is very funny, refusing to play gay on the nose and instead giving us a savvy dude who is so bored with picking up gay guys that he has turned his attention to the straight men in the gym where he works. And Jon Favreau, now a great director, is a treasure as Barry, a married man so miserable that five seconds of undesired conversation with a nerd like Rudd makes him want to resort to physical violence.
And Rudd himself–it’s a shame that it took this guy so long to become a star. We were all pretty behind on that one. He is absolutely outstanding in this movie, playing a character so socially awkward but lovable at the same time. Peter is a guy who exists a little bit in all of us– I identified (sadly) with his tendency to say random, nonsensical things to end conversations (him refering to Sidney as “Jobin” in one moment is particularly classic). Rudd’s creation is unique–I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a comedic hero quite as uncool as Peter.
If Bromantic comedies are going to continue to be as funny as this one, I say bring em on. These guys have such good chemistry that it is hard to imagine them not making something that was at least a little funny. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was somewhat forgettable, but other than that, they haven’t struck out yet. I say get ready for Funny People. It is the next great one in line.