By Robert Solomon
Most film comedies derive their humor from the outrageous situations that their poor characters are trapped in. Take the trailer for the film Year One, which is attached to most prints of this film. Jack Black and Michael Cera apply their contemporary sensibility and idiocy to the year 1 A.D. and hilarity ensues.
Meanwhile, the Judd Apatow films The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up have reestablished the value of finding humor in everyday situations and problems, albeit with an R-rated twist, which allows for more explicit (some might say juvenile) discussions of sex.
I Love You, Man follows in this trend, although almost in a half-hearted way. It is an R-rated movie and even the ads have played up this fact by saying “R is for Raunchy.” Anyone walking into the film expecting this is going to be disappointed (save for a short scene involving projectile vomiting). I Love You, Man is more concerned with being reassuring than anything else.
It should be noted that despite Jason Segel’s presence on the poster, this is really a Paul Rudd show. Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a real-estate agent who is completely at ease around women but finds himself completely flummoxed when it comes to the rituals of masculinity.
As Klaven attempts to bond with various potential Best Men for his wedding, having never had a best friend before, his attempts at appropriating the language of casual masculinity are some of the comic highlights. His willingness to subject himself to all manner of personal indignity while butchering the colloquialisms of men everywhere is to be commended, even if it remains only lightly amusing at best and never produces the loud laughs that one hopes for when watching a comedy.
Those loud laughs happen when a film is surprising, making light of something that was previously unspoken or forbidden, shocking us with the revelation of the glaringly obvious, done in an inventive way. While there is no single element in I Love You, Man that can be easily criticized, it doesn’t try too terribly hard to push these boundaries, either. The film hopes that simple insight involving the difficulties of male friendship is enough, and while the sentiment is appreciated, it turns out not to be enough.
However, the film is not a total loss. To see the budding friendship center around a shared love of a band as nerdy as Rush is encouraging and quite accurate. Having met more Rush fans on Tech campus than anywhere else (save for the unbounded wasteland that is the Internet), this author can certainly attest that the film gets these details right. The scenes when Segel and Rudd are bonding are certainly where the film’s heart lies, and it is a shame that the same level of enthusiasm could not be applied to the scenes with women, as none of them ever escape the tired stereotypes they begin in.
In the end, I Love You, Man is just like that date you had with that one girl (or boy) on OkCupid who turned out to be less mysterious than expected, and instead was sweet and straightforward with no visible flaws to criticize. However, there was no spark there. You have a nice time and you are glad you went out with her, but you aren’t going to go out again. Comedies can only go so far on such traits. At some point, you have to be surprised. Unfortunately, there are no surprises in this film.