The first thing John Hamburg’s “I Love You, Man” teaches us is that the mean time between the Style section of the New York Times heralding a fake trend and the creation of a Hollywood comedy predicated on that fake trend is about four years. It was in April of 2005 that the Times published an article entitled “The Man Date,” which made the staggering observation that two men can have dinner and see a movie and not have sex with each other afterwards. Who knew? All those years I was doing it wrong! No wonder it took me so long to get married to a woman!
Patent ridiculousness of the piece aside, it did, unfortunately, introduce the term “man date” into the urban post-modern vocabulary, and where there’s a catchphrase, there’s usually a high concept waiting to attach itself to it in some film industry pitch meeting. Hence, “I Love You, Man,” directed by Hamburg from a script by himself and Larry Levin, gets quite a few laughs from the “man date” stuff before settling into a slightly more considered but equally funny consideration of het male friendships and their glories and discontents.
The setup is a little strained, though, which is already raising the hackles of those moviegoers Alfred Hitchcock calls “the plausibles.” Man’s protagonist is one Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), a moderately successful but struggling-to-go-bigger real estate agent who, upon announcing his engagement to lovely Zooey (Rashida Jones), is revealed by his kvelling family — droll dad J.K. Simmons, slightly ditzy mom Jane Curtin, and hip gay brother Andy Samberg — to have never been much of a man’s man. Therefore, the dilemma of who will serve as Peter’s best man emerges. Here’s where the plausibles get gnarly: “He could ask his dad or his brother! Everybody does that anyway!” Yes, we know. But really, this area isn’t what makes Peter so suddenly and thoroughly insecure about his lack of male friends. No, it’s overhearing a girl’s night convocation of Zooey and her typically “Sex and the City” pals, who opine that Peter’s deficit in this area could mean that he’s some kind of weirdo.
In any case, the search for, um, “bromance” begins, and Peter’s disastrous sojourns involve a poker game hosted by Barry, the husband of one of Zooey’s brasher gal pals (a hilariously hostile Jon Favreau and typically energetic Jaime Pressly, respectively), and a misunderstood evening out with non-heterosexual Doug (the ever-valuable Thomas Lennon) among its comic highlights. Finally, at an open house for the “Ferrigno estate” he’s trying to sell, Paul happens upon canapé-vulture Sydney Fife, with whom he develops an affinity. Sydney is everything Peter is not: brash, vulgar, a bit irresponsible. This being a transformation comedy, the soon-to-be pals represent two extremes, and the guy who’s gonna be the married — the truly successful male! — will have to mediate between them extremes in order to achieve the aim.
In the meantime, there are a crapload of jokes about fellatio, dog shit and Rush, and most of it’s pretty funny stuff, but it’s Rudd’s performance that keeps everything both afloat and fresh. In his recent work with the Judd Apatow posse, Rudd’s played outlandish goofballs whose antics belie the actor’s own friendly good looks. Here, he plays an introvert who suddenly decides he wants to be schticky — playing air bass to signify pleasure, making up goofy guy nicknames — and is a total schmuck at it. “Totes McGoats” is his spontaneous stab at guy-speak for “totally.” Whenever he tries to “do” a “fun” voice, he sounds like the Lucky Charms leprechaun. To watch this completely deft comic actor do such a virtuoso simulation of ineptitude is one of the film’s greatest pleasures, as is the fact that its inevitable happy end comes after a third act that doesn’t lag (or, as this picture would say, “ladge”) nearly as much as other male-centric comedies of recent vintage have.