Here's a comedy that, undeniably and more than something like "Role Models", contains many elements of Judd Apatow's cinema. It's something that has to be said when you see a cast led by Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, a script that is based on the idea of male friendship and one or two characters who suffer of what I once called –actually, probably everyone did- the 'Apatow Syndrome'. However, it has nothing to do with Apatow and, as in "Role Models", there are some differences to be found and in these differences "I love you, Man" emerges like a good comedy. It's another thing altogether to say that it's a good movie.
What the film carries (we could say 'drags' too) from Apatow is a certain familiarity of ideas. The script by director John Hamburg and Larry Levin centers on Peter Klaven, a lonely man who's about to marry Zooey. The thing is that Zooey and her girlfriends are worried about the fact that Peter doesn't have any friends. It's fair to stop and to say that the Peter character is played by Paul Rudd, in what's an extension of the role established in "Knocked Up" and slightly modified by David Wain in "Role Models": a laid-back man, not very sociable, dedicated to his wife and work, not sure of who his truly friends are. It's a role Rudd plays beautifully; by heart, yes, but it's brilliant. The fact that he meets Sydney and that he turns to be this lovable, sensitive, musical, honest, charming, hippie man played by Jason Segel takes us inevitably back to the character Segel played in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". Why wouldn't someone become a friend of Sydney? He's cool and he plays the guitar.
Anyway, the thing is that Sydney starts gaining importance in Peter's life and this drives Peter and Zooey apart
And they're getting married in two weeks. There's not much more than that as far as the plot goes, and you know how it ends. So, I don't know if Hamburg was trying to pay Apatow tribute or what. His last directing credit is "Along Came Polly", a film which is far from Apatow land. But the truth is that, at the end of the day, "I love you, Man" is not more Apatow than the things I've mentioned, and Hamburg makes a rare comedy of it by taking some chances
Not without being sentimental, of course.
You see, Apatow's first idea of cinema was one of a non-stop comedy (you can watch "Anchorman" any time) that slowly evolved into a more complex, dramatic line –probably the result of his own personal life- that, as a director, reached its peak in "Knocked Up". An idea of more developed characters, a detailed treatment of male bonding (friendship, yes), a particular interest in husband/wife relationship and a sometimes excessive sentimentalism recently concluded in complete failure: "Funny People". But what we shouldn't forget is that, no matter how and when, Apatow was always looking for comedy, and we could laugh with his films. Well, "Funny People" is not funny.
All the elements of a modern American comedy can sometimes confuse the viewer or even a director. The good news is that Hamburg knows what he wants his picture to be: a comedy, just a comedy. He plays his cards there and because he does it with balls he succeeds. The romantic elements are very few, the sentimentalism is there, but more as an excuse than ever before during this decade. Meanwhile, the friendship thing is natural and real, but not revealing, as in introducing a new light to the matter.
Where "I love you, Man" has its heart is in the comedy. A comedy that consists in putting the right characters in the right place at the right time so they can say the right things to make us laugh. This sounds redundant, but it has to because it has to be noted that it is planned: the casting is perfect (the two leads of course, and supporting characters by Jon Favreau and Jamie Pressly leading the game; with a nice appearance by Thomas Lennon) and the camera is not too risky so the actors can do what they have to.
But it's not that simple, because the planning includes the complexity of characters, and that's precisely why the actors need to be perfect. Say what you want, but there's not a comic line in the film that doesn't com from one of the characters' sheer nature. The rare quality of "I love you, Man" has to do with the fact that everything that makes us laugh truly seems like something a character, male or female, would say. That character, in that place, at that time. It's basic stuff, but it's rarely seen in a genre that depends, desperately, on moments that are simply there for the sake of a laugh. Here, in a film with not a lot of music, in a film that could be categorized at times of "quiet comedy", we believe what people say. And of course, we laugh.
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