In the summer of 2007, we had Michael Cera and Jonah Hill (channeling Richard Gere and Julia Roberts) rocking each other to sleep at the end of Superbad. In Knocked Up, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen seemed to have more romantic chemistry than Rogen and his female co-lead, Katherine Heigl.
Now, instead of dancing around the issue of uninhibited man-love, I Love You, Man plunges in. Rudd is back, starring with Jason Segel (the owner of the penis that stole any early scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as a newly engaged real-estate agent who has one big hurdle to his wedding: he doesn't have any true male friends, ergo he doesn't have a best man.
Rudd plays Peter, the gentle, painfully un-cool mama's boy who never mastered the code of hanging with dudes. When he drinks beers with the guys, he can't hang; one game of "anchorman" (a drinking game whereby participants slam down beers at an alarming pace) ends with Peter vomiting at hurricane force all over the host.
This is where Segel's character, Sydney, comes in. Sydney is a bohemian version of the man's man. He's the proud owner of a "man-cave," where he keeps a drum set, numerous guitars, hardcore pornography and a "no girls allowed" sign.
What could have been an achingly familiar hybrid of a romantic comedy and R-rated gross-out film gets additional punch from Segel and Rudd. While the script isn't anything special, the elements are cooked properly. The movie doesn't simply insist that Rudd and Segel are becoming best friends - it's revealed through what could have only been a true connection between the actors. Segel's Sydney is enamored with Peter's awkwardness, and Peter is hooked by Sydney's sincere, vulgar pearls of wisdom.
It's pretty clear that Rudd can no longer be referred to as an underrated comedic actor anymore, since just about every major film critic in the country has referred to him as such. Just the same, he finds a new gear in this one. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman, his characters have no shortage of swagger and misogynistic leanings. In I Love You, Man, he plays a womanly dude, in dire need of that swagger, and maybe a few lessons in being a prick. Somehow, Rudd makes Peter's sad attempts at relating to the fellas seem almost natural (his first telephone message he leaves for Sydney is the best thing I've heard since Jon Favreau's ramblings in Swingers).
Yet when he is in his element (jamming on the air-bass guitar at a Rush concert) the uninhibited Peter is a guy you'd hang with. One gets the impression that Rudd has a real-life understanding of both ends of the cool meter. Any dude who at one time yearned for the acceptance of his more macho peers will empathize. Or perhaps I am admitting too much about myself.
I Love You, Man is like a traditional romantic comedy, flipped upside-down (Director John Hamburg has rom-com experience with Along Came Polly). It's the male co-leads who fall in love, break up, and are reunited "romantically" by the movie's close, not the happy couple. Peter's fiancé (The Office's Rashida Jones, spunky as ever) is the sidekick, rooting him on. Maybe it's not a brave new world, but it's funny as hell.
I Love You, Man ★★★✩
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Directed by John Hamburg. Rated R.