Male friendship is sometimes treated like a disease in popular film. Unless it happens on a sports ground or in a traditionally male domain, it can be uncomfortable to address. When the subject is broached, it’s padded with generous amounts of bro-y humor, lest the characters or audience come in direct contact with actual emotions. Then along comes I Love You, Man, a love story about two heterosexual men that is neither masked in testosterone nor homophobia. Like its lonely protagonists, it tries its best to be comfortable and assertive in its own disarmingly awkward way.
Peter (Paul Rudd), according to his brother (Andy Samberg), is a girlfriend guy, someone who puts all his energy into his partner to the detriment of his male friendships. His nice guy persona endears him to women; he chats effortlessly with his female colleagues at the real estate agency where he works and his new fiancée’s girlfriends agree he’s the perfect man, especially when he treats the lot of them to homemade root beer floats. As he and Zooey (a very agreeable Rashida Jones) begin planning their wedding, however, his lack of close male friends comes into focus.
Peter’s immediate need to find a best man and groomsmen is underlined by a broader sense of otherness around guys. He doesn’t chug enough beers to hang out with his poker playing acquaintances and he can’t connect on a more intimate level with his fencing partners. Sensing his unease, Zooey and his family encourage Peter to go on man-dates, with little success. It isn’t until Sydney (Jason Segel), a layabout with no apparent career, crashes one of his open houses that Peter thinks he’s found the one.
That their friendship unfolds like a romance is deliberate. They give each other nicknames, sneak phone calls and texts, and discover a mutual devotion to the same band, a love that no one else seems to share. That thrill of a new and meaningful relationship, however, leads Peter to stray in his relationship with Zooey, and in time, she begins to feel like the third wheel.
What I Love You, Man manages, clumsily on occasion and not always wittily, is an expanded idea of male behavior and friendship. The film creates a space where two guys jamming to Rush in a mancave can coexist with men watching Chocolat by themselves. That Peter’s father (J. K. Simmons) is best friends with his gay son gives an added dimension. It all contributes to a great normalizing of relationships, whatever the form.
Part of that is embracing adulthood, and the characters do their best to confront conflict and uncertainty. Everyone’s willing to take chances on each other without knowing where or how things will end. But there is a measure of trust and reason, like when Zooey learns that Peter has been oversharing about their sex life, that allows them to deal with the consequences rather than denying them. Rudd and Segel should get credit; for characters who are supposed to somewhat quirky, insecure loners, the actors show them to be remarkably normal.
Prod: Donald De Line, John Hamburg
Dir: John Hamburg
Writer: John Hamburg, Larry Levin
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J. K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns, Lou Ferrigno, Thomas Lennon
Time: 105 min
Country: United States