Male camaraderie is elevated to the level of platonic romance in I Love You, Man, a movie that tries to take the guy-power Judd Apatow formula a few steps farther but can’t quite play ball on the same level. It doesn’t really seem to understand any of its characters in the way that Apatow’s films do and spends more time making fun of them (in pretty unfunny and redundant ways) and looking down on them while, in turn, asking us to sympathize with them. The whole movie just doesn’t work on any level, really, and I left disappointed.
In theory, I love the concept of this movie and it could’ve been a great genre satire. The love shared between a dude and his buddies has been a prevalent feature of the recent outpouring of Apatow-brand and Apatow-inspired R-rated comedies and a lot of them have been damn good, to boot. I Love You, Man centers around a concept that’s essentially a straight parody of this idea, playing out a male friendship in the archetype of a romantic comedy. For the most part, however, writer/director John Hamburg plays it straight—which would be fine if he had the wise humility and comedic Midas Touch that Apatow has. But he doesn’t. As a result, we wind up laughing at the characters instead of with them and that is where the movie sorely missteps.
Hans already reviewed this film (and you can read his far more positive review HERE), so I’ll spare you all the gory plot details. Sufficed to say that it’s about Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), a real estate agent who’s about to get married and realizes he’s never really had any close male friends, so he sets out on a mission to make some. After a series of misadventures he meets Sydney (Jason Segel), a somewhat free-spirited man-child, and the two of them hit it off instantly. From there it plays out its platonic romance, or “bromance,” as the newly emerging term coins it. It’s sort of a boy-meets-boy, boy-and-boy-hit-it-off, boy-and-boy-start-to-have-problems, boy-and-boy-rekindle kinda thing. A funny premise, sure, but the movie falters left and right.
I took issue with the movie asking me to care about characters who weren’t so much real people as they were dopey caricatures and broad comedy clichés. Rudd, who I normally love, is completely wasted here, working from a script that he’s frankly too good for. His character in the movie isn’t really all that likable. It’s not that he’s dislikable, it’s just that he can be such a stupid schmuck and so over-the-top awkward that he’s hard to root for or connect with at all. It really seems like this movie sticks to the script a lot more than the improvisational style of most Apatow movies. It’s jarring to watch how much omitting said improvisation drains all the characters of their natural humanity and disturbs the tone of the film. Peter winds up being just like every run-of-the-mill socially inept kind of movie character and brings nothing new to the table. He’s just too goofy to achieve the kind of sympathy that the movie wants him to achieve.
Segel is wasted to an even greater extent. I’ve loved Segel in his past Apatow work on Freaks and Geeks and in Knocked Up, and I even liked him in his lead role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was a movie I didn’t totally care for on its own. But here he just feels strange, underdeveloped, and, again, not very likable. He’s a mysterious free-spirit phantom, encouraging Rudd to let loose while having very little life of his own. He’s sort of the “bromantic comedy” equivalent to the character played by Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. And when he’s not evoking that character, his problematic aloofness and bizarre outbursts of aggression and violence feel more like Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me. And that’s not good at all.
I Love You, Man also would have done a lot better to entirely stick to the “bromance” idea. It’s always dipping into Peter’s relationship with his fiancé, Zooey (Rashida Jones), which would be fine–and totally necessary–if she was a real character who had an emotional barometer of some kind all the time–and not just when it is specifically moving the plot forward. As is, she’s really just a character that exists in the film out of obligation. She doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to illustrate how Rudd’s intense friendship with Segel is affecting his relationship with her. Which is an idea that doesn’t serve much of a purpose when your characters are all kinda worthless.
But I guess what bugged me most about this film is that it’s just not very funny. It throws so much at the wall and so much of it falls totally flat. I rarely laughed and when I did it was little more than a light chuckle or a smirk. They really try to get a whole lot of mileage out of Rudd using awkward nonsensical slang and then apologizing for it. Damn near every single scene has a moment like that, and after awhile I just started dropping my head in my hands and groaning. Maybe it’s just a taste thing, though. I’m not a fan of awkward humor at all and this movie uses up a lot of its laughing gas on awkward moments.
It also does a lot of stuff that isn’t particularly clever or fun or interesting, but is just obvious and annoying. In the sequence in which Peter is spending time with various male acquaintances, it skates through a lot of agonizing stock gags including the inevitable accidental-date-with-a-gay-guy who then tries to kiss him. I really wish the movie hadn’t gone for this joke, but it did, and I’m kind of ashamed of it for that. And then we have Peter playing a drinking game with a group full of alpha males which culminates in him projectile vomiting all over Jon Favreau. This is just not funny to me. Favreau also had a presence I can’t stand. He’s not in much of the movie, but his stuff is just angry asshole humor that isn’t particularly clever or funny to me.
A lot of the supporting cast of the film just plays things up to the cartoonish level that the main cast always seems to be flirting with. From the Tevin guy that Peter works with to Joe Lo Truglio’s sporadically squeaky-voiced soccer enthusiast, everyone seems to be going for really broad comedy while the director seems focused on taking things more seriously in an effort to make us really care about these people. Knocked Up is a great movie because it plays out like a drama that happens to be about real people who are really funny. I Love You, Man plays out in straight-forward romantic comedy formula with a cast that’s unsure of whether or not they’re supposed to be winking at the camera.
Maybe it’s just me and my stupid movie-nerd humor, but I thought the funniest stuff in the movie were all the jokes about Chocolat and M. Knight Shyamalan, and there’s even a brief Back to the Future reference (see if you can catch it!). But even the Lou Ferrigno jokes just stopped being funny after awhile. To be honest, what probably would have been the best material in the film was the scenes with SNL’s Andy Samberg, but since most of that was used in the trailer and he had minimal screen-time, it ends up being kinda forgettable.
I wanted to like the movi–and I expected to, based on all the great things that I had been hearing (and despite what I thought was an underwhelming trailer). But at the end of the day, it’s just not a very well put-together movie, and it’s not very funny. I can’t believe this film is getting such strong reviews (and that Duplicity‘s reviews, while thankfully positive, are generally less enthusiastic). I think people just have Judd Apatow on the brain when they watch it and it enhances the experience a bit. It’s understandable I guess, since John Hamburg uses the same cast and the same kinds of themes and ideas as all of Apatow’s successful films. But he just doesn’t have the honesty, brains, and style. The finished product is like a K-Mart brand version of an Apatow movie, with a label that says “Compare to active ingredients in Apatow films,” but we know it’s just not the same and not as effective. Apatow has a means of making juvenile humor that’s somehow also adult and smart. Hamburg makes juvenile humor that’s just juvenile. And anyone can do that.