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I Love You, Man

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I Love You, Man
Director: John Hamburg
Screenwriters: John Hamburg, Larry Levin
Starring: (interview) Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones
Running time: 105 mins
Certificate: 15

Thanks to Judd Apatow and a stream of comedy hits from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Pineapple Express, it seems that Hollywood has warmed to the idea of men sharing their feelings and (gulp) being vulnerable on the big screen. Of course it was always an undercurrent of macho cop movies where at least brandishing a gun compensates for the mushiness. But the horrible tension that comes with male intimacy is also fertile ground for laughs. Paul Rudd (hitherto a supporting player for the likes of Will Ferrell et al) makes the most of it in I Love You, Man as a timid estate agent who attempts to woo the burly Jason Segel (who shared the screen with him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) into friendship.

Peter Klaven (Rudd) appears to have all his ducks in a row when he proposes marriage to long-time girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones). She happily accepts but when Peter has trouble figuring out who his best man should be, Zooey suggests that he's missed out on a vital part of his emotional development; a meaningful friendship with a man. Director John Hamburg, who came to prominence with Ben Stiller vehicles like Meet The Parents and Along Came Polly, takes the rom-com approach to Peter's friendship dilemma. He goes on 'man dates' and quickly becomes disillusioned when he's mistaken for gay and gets a mouthful of man-tongue.

Like the image Peter projects, the jokes can seem cheap and easy, squarely aimed at the obvious soft spot. Peter isn't homophobic - the script underlines this by giving him a 'cool' gay brother (Andy Samberg) - but he is unnerved by the hazy protocol surrounding male friendship. The fumbling over phone calls and casual repartee echo a classic Seinfeld episode (penned by Hamburg's co-writer Larry Levin) although this understated comedy rubs against much coarser humour. When Peter meets Sydney (Segel) at an open house, they hit it off with a chat about farting. That's a Hamburg hallmark and even extends to an antisocial pet who's actively encouraged by Sydney to foul the sidewalk. Gross-out gags may be past their sell-by-date (the novelty worn off since Hamburg had a cat pee in Robert De Niro's loo), but what resonates is the vulgarity itself; the depths to which men will stoop in order to bond with each other.

Rudd excels at this part and the film becomes less formulaic as Hamburg follows his journey (under Sydney's influence) from squeaky clean suit to ribald rock fan. And the awkwardness of the transition throws up laughs where, on paper, a scene mightn't be that funny. Echoing his brilliant supporting turn in the mock-macho Anchorman, Rudd has a tragically self-conscious swagger and a faltering way with trash talk which is expertly timed for maximum amusement. He hits a peak with a hilarious 007 send-up as he's fitted for his wedding suit. The jacket may look pinched at the seams, but this role fits Rudd like a glove. His slight hesitancy in every high-five and fist-pump is endearing too, and when he does achieve full wild abandon - playing air guitar at a rock concert - it's an ecstatic coming of age as much as a regression to childhood.

Of course Peter's fiancée is mortified by his juvenile behaviour, setting up the obvious him-or-me dilemma towards the end. What keeps it from being wholly predictable are the subtle shifts in Sydney's behaviour. His self-assuredness and forthright manner (challenging Peter on intimate subjects from love to 'self-love') gradually give way to insecurity, a slight stalker edge to his behaviour and the revelation of an ulterior motive. Until then, Segel is caged by stereotype, playing the bluff pseudo-intellectual slob. For both men though, it's the sincerity lurking just beneath the bravado which sets the film apart from the abrasive comedy it might have been if, say, the Farrelly Brothers had made it ten years ago. Hardnuts beware: your cockles will be warmed.


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