Capone gives a big ol' masculine hug to I LOVE YOU, MAN!!!
Published at: Jan. 20, 2009, 3:25 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with an early look at one of the genuine surprises of Butt Numb-a-Thon X. Not that a truly funny film featuring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel is all that surprising (KNOCKED UP or FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, anyone?), but this is a work that has probably been under the radar for a lot of you, and I think it's time to blow the door off this I LOVE YOU MAN's cloak of invisibility and get you excited about seeing it when it opens in March. The film also is the Opening Night offering at the SXSW Film Festival, and I can't wait to see it again.
I'm sure a day will come when Paul Rudd will star in a bad R-rated comedy, but that day will have to wait just a little longer. It almost doesn't seem fair. Back when I interviewed him for ROLE MODELS, we talked a great deal about I LOVE YOU, MAN, and it was very clear that he was pretty happy with the script and the way the film turned out. He seemed especially pleased with the non-mean tone of the film. For the most part, this isn't a movie about people insulting each other or putting each other down for the sake of a laugh. Certainly, Rudd has been in films like that and they remain some of the funniest things I've ever seen. And I'm not implying that I LOVE YOU, MAN is some kind of feel-good horseshit that makes you want to skip out of the theater and hug 100 strangers because you've found a new lease on life. Instead, the movie manages to earn its laughs from a combination of good old-fashioned writing and trusting in its actors to do what they do best--ad lib some of the funniest jokes and references the human brain can produce. So what is this film about exactly? Allow me to let Paul Rudd explain:
"The idea is that Rashida Jones and I are this engaged couple. We get engaged right at the beginning of the movie. She says, 'yes,' she’s excited and calls her friends and asks if I want to call anybody and tell them the good news. And, so I think, Well, I have my parents, but they’re sleeping; I’ll tell them tomorrow. And, she goes, “What about any of your friends?” And, I have nobody to call. And, it’s only because…not that I’m a weirdo, it’s just that I’ve been a ‘girlfriend’ guy for so long that I don’t have any close male friendships. It becomes painfully obvious in this moment. And, she’s going to have lots of bridesmaids, and I don’t really have a best man for my wedding. My parents are Jane Curtin and J.K. Simmons, and I have a brother played by Andy Samberg, who is gay, and we’re not particularly close…And, so then, I have to go and try and meet some guys to try and find some friends. Then, it turns into a romantic comedy, but it’s kind of between two guys, because I meet some guys, and nobody’s right. And, then I meet Jason Segel. We have a very ‘meet cute’ kind of thing, where I’m a realtor and I’m showing Lou Ferrigno’s house, and he’s there, because there are hot divorcés and good food [at the open house]. Anyway, we become, you know, total…like, I have a buddy for the first time in my life, and it just rocks my world."
I couldn't have said it better myself, but allow me to fill in a few blanks. For starters, writer-director John Hamburg's screenplay is pretty great, and it taps into a concept that I'm surprised hasn't really been explored to this degree before in American movies. Like the films of Judd Apatow (who had nothing to do with the production of this film; in fact, it is Ivan Reitman who serves as one of the movie's executive producers), the film works on two levels--the level purely aimed at laughs and the subtext that actually explores some very real issues. What I also liked about Hamburg's work is that it's not a movie about man-children who need to grow up so they can move ahead in life. If anything, it's about grown men who desperately wish they could revert every so often, and they just haven't found the right guy with whom to recapture their youth and act like idiots. What I couldn't get out of my head while watching this film that Rudd and Segel could have switched characters, and I'd buy this premise just as much, maybe even more since I know about a thousand men who have confessed to me man-crushes on Paul Rudd. But Rudd so completely sells the concept of a nice guy with no guy friends that you can't help root for the poor man as he brings out a tray of hot toddies for a roomful of his fiancé's girlfriends.
Despite scaring me slightly after seeing her in a couple episodes of "Freaks and Geeks," Rashida Jones has always been in my sights, especially after her run on "The Office." I don't know how she'd be playing a wife, but she's just about damn near the perfect girlfriend/wife-to-be. In addition to being the right amount of gorgeous, her character, Zooey, also is required to be both unwaveringly supportive of her man's pursuit of other men and a little jealous when the search for a best guy friend goes a little too well, and she starts seeing less and less of Rudd's Peter. When she puts on a sad face, I just want to give her a big hug and tell her that I won't let Peter or anyone else hurt her anymore. There's a strong sweetness to her that I want to see more of in roles like this. And while she's not expected to carry the weight of the film comedically, she's a great straight man for everybody else, especially the exceptionally funny Jaime Pressly as her foul-mouthed best friend. I've always said about "My Name Is Earl" that the only things that could make Pressly funnier on the show is if she could swear, and I now know I was right. Her probing questions and confessions about sex are some of the best writing in the film. But her best moments come during the utterly vicious verbal exchanges between her and her husband (John Favreau). They are the classic fight-and-fuck couple, who only seem to get a sexual charge out of each if it's preceded by a slew of insults.
Favreau's character underscores something about Peter as well. It's not that Peter doesn't have male friends because he spends all his time with women; it's also that Peter is often rejected by the less sensitive alpha-male types. His sensitivity scares them, which is why Peter is drawn to Segel's Sydney, a guy who has no trouble talking about his feelings while also enjoying more male-oriented activities like going to bars, jam sessions, and finding creative ways to pick up women…like at Peter's open house, for example. There are about 20 different ways that Sydney could have been drawn as some kind of bad influence on Peter, but the fact is the only remotely negative thing he does is take up so much of Peter's time that Zooey begins to resent it. Writer-director Hamburg (SAFE MEN; ALONG CAME POLLY; and episodes of "Undeclared" and "Stella") deliberately keeps Sydney a bit of a mystery man and denies us a backstory on why he's living alone but apparently pretty well. He makes some vague comments about being an investor, but when he asks Peter for a loan at one point, we begin to suspect that something ain't quite right with him. Truth is, I don't remember a lot of what these two guys spent their time talking about, but I remember laughing my ass off every time they shared the screen. The exchange thoughts on relationships, sex, music, and the fine art of hanging out. Any longtime fan of Segel's going back to "Freaks and Geeks" will get a huge kick out of the running Rush references and music featured throughout the film, culminating in a near-orgasmic night out where all of their Rush dreams come true.
In a lot of ways, Rudd and Segel are the two support beams for a flock of great supporting players. The all-too-few scenes with Sandberg and Simmons are tremendous. Simmons is almost too okay with his favorite son's gayness and the terminology that goes along with the gay lifestyle. The joke, of course, is that it's the gay son who is accepted, while the straight son who is looked at as the outcast, but Simmons sells it so beautifully that you can't possibly be mad at how horribly he's treating Peter. Sandberg's lessons to Peter on meeting men (especially one scene in a gym) are great as well, especially when he reveals the truth about gay men: it's way more of a thrill for a gay guy to bed a straight man than a gay one. I KNEW it! Peter's attempted "dates" with potential best-friend candidates are an exercise in awkward behavior. A seemingly promising evening out with Thomas Lennon ends about as disastrously as humanly possible. I'll conclude this discussion of the supporting cast by saying: God bless the comedy stylings of Lou Ferrigno.
If I had even one complaint about I LOVE YOU, MAN it's that it doesn't end as strongly as everything leading up to the final scenes. The loose ends tie up nice and clean, and I'm guessing that 99 percent of the people who see this film will be right on board with that. I guess my issue has more to do with the rest of the film seeming to go out of its way to try something different, and I thought they might be able to extend that groove until the very end. The climax is by no means weak, just slightly predictable. Still, I LOVE YOU, MAN manages not only to redefine the buddy film but improves upon it and makes it funnier than it's been in years. It's a heterosexual romantic comedy for the ages, and between SARAH MARSHALL last year and this film, my only question is: What's next for this classic comedy team? Hey guys, that Wayland Flowers and Madame biopic ain't gonna make itself!