The ‘90s were a progressive time when a straight man could tell another straight man, “I love you, man,” or at least it made for a line of hilarious Budweiser commercials. But what does it mean to say those words to another man? In a society that has confused love with sex to a ridiculous level, why can’t two men simply admit that fact they love each other in a non gay way?
This isn’t an issue for Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) because he has no male friends. All his life all his friends have been of the female persuasion. He has finally found “the one” and after popping the question to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones), the two realize that he has no best man. The date for the wedding is set and Peter begins a quest to find a man friend by going through a series of man dates.
Hilarity ensues when Peter, who is an effeminate pansy, finds out that he simply has no understanding of the male psyche. Poker Night backfires when Peter’s naivety of the game is made up for by a ridiculous amount of beginner’s luck. Even worse, after a drinking game he upchucks on the host. But the clincher is when his mother stages a dinner with another man that sends the wrong message. Peter gives up the mad quest and resigns himself to the fact that he doesn’t understand guys.
Then, by pure happenstance, Peter meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). Here’s a man that’s open about life and quickly induces Sydney to be completely open as well. Soon the two are talking about their most personal issues and cracking hilariously inappropriate jokes. And most importantly, the two both love the same band. It’s not long before Peter is playing air guitar around the house and fist pounding the guys.
I Love You, Man captures the utter ridiculousness of male bonding. One of the first things Sydney teaches Peter is how to simply let it all out with a good yell. It’s mindless and stupid, but it is how guys deal with their emotions. While Zooey and her friends chat up a storm, Sydney and Jason create a storm of music.
But while the film is consistently funny, it sacrifices plot in the process. Zooey becomes more of an afterthought as the film progresses and her relationship with Peter is never fully fleshed out. Even worse is that once past the midpoint, the film becomes a series of hilarious, loosely connected comedic setups while the story grinds to a stop.
Taking it even further, the climax of the film is ruined by a ridiculously long stint of dialogue. Not only is it not believable, but also it explains things we already know about the characters. A quick four line exchange could easily have summed up what takes the film two minutes to resolve.
Additionally, the film passes up the opportunity to flesh out its characters, settling for a consistent stream of jokes instead. Sydney in particular could have been a much more interesting character. He is deathly afraid of commitment and only has relationships with recent divorcees who just want to have a good time. The film has the perfect opportunity to question his lifestyle when he sees what Jason and Zooey have together. Instead, Sydney remains a funny and memorable, but static, character.
I Love You, Man is a genuinely funny comedy because it is rooted in the male psyche. But the comedy overpowers the development of a plot and characters. It settles for telling a mediocre story with semi-interesting characters instead of fleshing out into something with more depth. It should look to the likes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which had less laughs per minute but provided memorable characters and a solid plot. I Love You, Man, like most comedies, simply uses its plot and characters as a backdrop for its gag. Yet I find it hard to begrudge the film too much for this fatal flaw as I spent most of its runtime laughing harder than I had at any film in years.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing