“You nicknamed me Pistol, and I just called you… “Joben”… It means nothing… I don’t… I’m drunk… I’m gonna call a cab.”
Most likely thanks to Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd has become one of the surprise stars of the last ten years or so. Yes, before that he was Phoebe’s husband in Friends, and long before that he was the unlikely love interest in Clueless, but arguably it was the success of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up that really propelled Rudd forwards, culminating in two of my favourite recent comedies: Role Models and I Love You, Man. In the latter, Rudd pairs up with Jason Segel, and the combination of two of the most likeable actors working today results in, as expected, a very likeable movie – a comedy that tones down the gross-out and focuses on the natural charm of the characters instead.
I Love You, Man begins with an engagement and ends with a wedding, but the bride is fairly inconsequential – this is straight-up bromance. After a short courtship, Peter Klaven (Rudd) proposes to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), only to realise that the upcoming wedding threatens to reveal his lack of male friends. Peter’s the quintessential girlfriend-man – unthreatening, polite, thoughtful and considerate, more interested in the domestic pleasures of cuddling on the sofa while watching HBO than necking pints and participating in belching competitions with the guys. Suddenly concerned that he has no one to be his best man, he starts trying to find a platonic male friend – a much more difficult task than first imagined. Cue a series of ill-fated and ridiculous man-dates (including one misconstrued actual date with Doug, who pops up sporadically to steal the scene), until one day, by chance, he meets the man who could be The One: Sydney Fife (Segel), a big, affable man-child with a man-cave to rival any other.
It’s a simple premise, and the story meanders along pleasantly, punctuated by some truly funny moments – many thanks to Rudd’s awkward charm. Yet underneath there’s something about the narrative that really rings true – it might all be a bit ridiculous (Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno plays an important role, for instance), but at its core it’s a story about the importance of friendship, and how new friendships can affect existing relationships. Peter and Sydney’s blossoming friendship has repercussions – it’s not all epic jam sessions and impromptu moped-duets. Sydney himself is quite an enigma, despite his apparent straightforwardness – his motivation for really embracing Peter as a friend stems from more than the fact that they appear to be a perfect odd couple, for example, and it’s something that many twenty- and early-thirty-somethings could relate to.
Rudd and Segel are supported by a plethora of familiar faces, actors who you recognise but can’t quite work out from where, as well as some more recognisable names. As well as Jaime Pressley, Andy Samberg and the always wonderful JK Simmons, Jon Favreau pops up, offering a contrast to Peter’s attributes: whereas Peter is the man that mothers love, Favreau’s Barry is the typical asshole husband – rude, crude, uncooperative. He’s pretty much the only unlikeable character of the bunch although, unexpectedly, if anyone was to take second place it may well be Zooey. Perhaps emphasising the importance of a guyfriend (bros before hos, after all), as Peter finally starts socialising and embracing his inner man, Zooey appears to develop some reservations about the whole situation. Indeed, the fledgling bromance quickly reveals how little the future bride and groom actually know about each other. Yet, this being a nice kind of movie, balance is restored in the end – I suppose, given the subject matter, it’s intentional that the relationship we’re really asked to root for is not Peter and Zooey’s, but Peter and Sydney’s. There are warning flags – what does Sydney actually do for a living? Should you really loan friends money? Shouldn’t he really pick up after his dog?! – but despite all of these, it’s really hard to not root for these two men. They’re so clearly meant for each other, from their mutual love of Rush to their need for some proper male bonding. Girlfriends be damned!
Regardless of the bankability of Rudd and Segel who were, at the time, considered more as solid supporting actors, I Love You, Man performed only modestly at the box office – although it rode on the coattails of Apatow’s success and was squarely aimed at the same audience, perhaps it’s just too pleasant and understated (even with the projectile vomiting scene) to make much of an impact. It might not be the most dynamic movie, or the most memorable – or even the most laugh-out-loud funny – but the likeability of the two leads and the subtle truths contained within the screenplay makes it not only particularly likeable, but surprisingly insightful as well.