I Love You, Man signals the arrival of a great thing - Paul Rudd, leading man. Yes, there was Role Models, but he was sharing the load and splitting screentime with Seann William Scott in that one, here, it's all Rudd, all the time, he's the focus of virtually every scene and every moment. This is a great thing.
Paul Rudd is the ideal avatar for modern comedy, a nearly perfect average of every character type; droll and sarcastic but not an asshole, awkward and self-deprecating but not a loser, comfortably profane but without seeming like something's missing when he's not swearing, good looking but not insultingly so, and with a line delivery and comic timing that hits every bullseye a script offers him. I was waiting for Judd Apatow to center a project around him but it seems that John Hamburg, who has vindicated himself for the execrable Along Came Polly, has beaten him to the punch.
Paul Rudd is Peter (the most common protagonist name after Jack?), who is marrying Zooey. But Peter has no male friends and no best man, so he has to step outside his comfort zone of relationships with women and try to meet and befriend a dude. Enter the supernaturally easygoing Sydney, played by Jason Segel doing the exact opposite of his depressed, high-strung Forgetting Sarah Marshall character, and we watch their friendship bloom.
Peter and Zooey's romance is a constant, not really focused on, with the movie as a whole being a twist on the generic romantic comedy, refocusing all the tropes of the genre - the cute initial meeting, the tentative bonding, the blissful montage, the tearful fight, the joyous reunion, and so on - from romance to platonic male friendship. It's simple but it works completely, thanks largely to the brilliant cast. Paul Rudd - the perfect awkward everyman. Jason Segel - hilarious. Rashida Jones as Zooey - hilarious and adorable. With the likes of J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, and Rob Huebel filling out the edges and smaller characters, this is an A+ comedy role call.
It's definitely a post-Apatow comedy, meaning that it's R-rated, profane, raunchy, and stuffed with frank sexual dialogue, but it does it right, letting the comedy flow naturally from characters that happen to be profane rather than trying to replace humorous interactions with profanity and sex. I thought Zack & Miri Make a Porno was mildly funny, but it was trying so, so hard to be offensive that I actually cringed a couple times at how juvenile it seemed; in contrast I Love You, Man is mellow and easygoing and never has to force the issue that it's funny, particularly in one frank and hilarious conversation about masturbation between Rudd and Segel that impressed me with how perfectly it straddled the line between vulgar and eminently likable.
The movie is also impressive for all the cliché romantic comedy things it doesn't do: At no point is there a retarded misunderstanding that would be cleared up if only the characters would speak to one another. No one ever thinks someone is cheating on anyone else. Neither men or women are presented as smarter or dumber or prissier or lazier than the other. Sydney never even faces comeuppance for his brazen sexual hedonism! Sure, there's conflict and characters fight, but none of it is ever cheap or manipulative, the conflicts, while comic and heightened, actually resemble things that, get this, real people might fight about! It's like they made a big list of the things I hate about 97% of romantic comedies and carefully didn't do any of them.
I hate to sound like a gushing Paul Rudd fanboy, but I have embarrassingly little critique to offer to I Love You, Man. It's a very slight movie with a featherweight narrative, there's nothing deep or remotely innovative about the experience and it won't inspire any knockoffs because there's nothing identifiably unique about it to knock off, but it hits all the right notes, never lags, and has a superb cast that to a man (and woman) know their way around a punchline. It's extremely funny comedic comfort food and I recommend it to all non-buzzkills.
3 Stars out of 5