What a pleasant surprise. I loved every minute of I Love You, Man. It is, start to finish, a winning, funny, charming, and surprising comedy.
It’s a fact that the more movies you watch, the more they all seem alike. It’s the bane of movie critics and probably why so many seem so cynical and so hard to please. I often catch myself exhibiting symptoms of this “critics hate everything” disease.
Just today, while watching the previews before I Love You, Man, I noticed my eyes rolling while the audience laughed at one moment after another that struck me as tired, over-familiar, lame. I had similarly cringed weeks earlier while watching the I Love You, Man trailer and glancing at its poster.
So, I was very happy to discover that the movie offers everything it takes to elevate a potentially cookie-cutter comedy to greatness – engaging and endearing characters to care about and a neat twist.
Paul Rudd stars as Peter Klaven, a successful real estate agent with big plans. Topping the list is marrying Zooey (Rashida Jones) and everything seems perfect when he gets down on one knee and she says “Yes” with a smile and a tear. There is one problem – one of those movie problems – though. He only knows how to relate to women. He doesn’t have any close male friends. He is short one best man.
After overhearing Zooey’s friends – she has a surplus of gal-pals – express concern that he may be too “clingy” as a husband and suspicion that he doesn’t hang out with the guys, Peter decides he better get started man-dating right away. And, as you can imagine, it’s not without its pitfalls and embarrassments.
One date leaves Zooey questioning why his breath smells of cigarettes and him realizing that fine dining can give the other guy the wrong idea. An evening of poker and lots of beer with the guys leaves him feeling all is hopeless when he doesn't know the value of a flush and he isn't able to hold that beer. And then, into Peter’s open house for the upscale home of Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno walks Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), the man of Peter’s dreams.
What follows is, of course, the education of Peter by Sydney (a name that is pointedly non-gender specific). Peter, a man who is very happy having girlfriends, reluctantly ventures out into the world of men. With the help of Sydney, he adapts so well that he almost loses his ability to relate to women. He “dies” and is re-born as a man who can comfortably say “I love you” to both Zooey and Sydney.
That’s the cookie-cutter description. But what gives this batch a special flavor and varied shapes is the cast. Rudd has always been an impressive comedic actor and he is hilarious here. His fumbling phone call asking Sydney for a date is a classic, a wonderful bit of verbal comedy. His slightly drunken walking about the sidewalk after that date is slapstick heaven on par with Monty Python’s "Ministry of Silly Walks."
And Sydney is an amazing creation. The way he strolls down Venice Beach wearing t-shirt, shorts, boots, and total self-assurance is unforgettable. The way he and Peter jam together in his “man cave” and dance exuberantly at a Rush concert are the types of moments that make you want to drop everything and just hang out with the characters.
The neat twist is – after watching a ridiculous number of movies where a man discovers his feminine side – here is a movie that reverses the formula. Real men do need to be feminine – and masculine – after all.