It’s been just over ten years since John Hamburg’s “Safe Men” was released. If you haven’t seen that film, it’s on DVD right now, and I highly recommend tracking down a copy. It’s a great small quirky comedy with Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, and Sam Rockwell, and it’s one of those movies that I’ve probably pushed on more friends over the years than I can count. And every single time, the person who I give it to ends up loving it. As a result, I’ve been interested in whatever Hamburg’s up to since then. He’s co-written both “Meet The Parents” and “Meet The Fockers,” and right now, he’s working on a draft of “The Little Fockers.” But him as a writer/director is what interests me more, and this weekend, he’s got a film in general release that I think justifies that ongoing interest on my part, and which confirms Paul Rudd as one of the most deranged and subversive mainstream male leads working right now.
“I Love You, Man” is about a guy named Peter Klaven (Rudd) who has managed to go from girlfriend to girlfriend his entire life, never really forming any close male friendships as a result. I know guys like this, serial monogamists. And they do vanish into their relationships, almost as if they’re afraid that any outside influence will destroy whatever relationship they have with the girl. When Klaven pops the questions to his girlfriend Zooey (the preposterously cute Rashida Jones), he realizes he’s going to need a best man, and that’s what kicks off his quest to find a new friend, someone he can legitimately ask to stand next to him on the most important day of his life. If you’ve seen any movie ever in your entire life, you can guess that it won’t be easy, and that Sydney Fife (Jason Segal) isn’t going to be the easiest guy in the world to deal with. And, admittedly, narrative innovation isn’t what “I Love You, Man” is all about. Instead, the film provides a simple framework to explore the idea of how we define “normal” masculine behavior, and whether or not there’s some value in playing the social roles that we’re supposed to play. It’s a smart comedy with plenty of broad, outrageous moments to keep things light.
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Segal’s character is presented as someone with an unflappable sense of himself from the moment he’s introduced. He has found a lifestyle he loves, and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. Peter, on the other hand, is a guy who is totally concerned with what others think, and Rudd plays it perfectly. In a typical comedy, Klaven would be the rigidly normal one, and Sydney would be the wild man who comes in to shake everything up. Here, though, Rudd and Segal both demonstrate enough eccentriticy that it’s more like Sydney is just permission for Peter to finally express who he really is.
I love the new sensibility in film comedy where it’s not just about one person being funny while everyone else plays straight man. Here, Hamburg packs his cast with supporting players who are strong enough to make an impression in just a few scenes. Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressley play a married couple whose constant rancor may be what keeps them attracted to each other, and Andy Samberg plays Rudd’s gay brother, who pretty much flies in the face of what is stereotypically portrayed as “gay” in comedy. Little details like that push the film over the top. Lou Ferrigno’s performance as himself is pretty great, and even though Thomas Lennon’s made a career of playing sexual ambiguity, he scores some points in his small role as one of Peter’s “man-dates.” And if you’re a Rush fan, as I was in my high school days, the film has a hilarious obsession with the band.
I’ve seen a number of people try to lump “I Love You, Man” in with the films produced or written and directed by Judd Apatow, but that’s not really fair. Sure, Apatow may use both Segal and Rudd in his films, but Hamburg’s film has a tone of its own, and if you’re in the mood for some straight-faced absurdism this weekend, “I Love You, Man” delivers.
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