Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - I Love You, ManMovie Commentary

by John Topping

published March 22, 2009


I Love You, Man

rated R

now playing nationwide


It is not surprising that the slow-but-steady dissolution of homophobia in our country owes a lot to comedy.  Jon Stewart on The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, in particular, regularly make jokes about being attracted to men.  By not mocking or demeaning gayness, but rather pulling the humor from their supposed genuine sexual attraction to another man (gay or straight), they have raised the comedy to another level.  It is neither derogatory to gay people nor infused with the vicious comedy of gay panic (the sudden realization that someone they’ve been spending time with is gay, resulting in either physical gay bashing or the verbal affirmation that gay people are something to be revolted by).  Is the conceit of the joke that they are secretly gay?  Or that they are straight-up straight but experiencing unexpected gay feelings?  I think the latter, but what really turns the jokes into homeruns (that’s baseball terminology, right?) is their complete lack of embarrassment about the matter.  Although they may be confused about it, they’re not feeling bad about themselves over it; they’re just trying to wrap their heads around this new idea of their self-image.  They make gay jokes that don’t denigrate gay people.  Everybody wins, except, perhaps, the eternally unrepentant homophobes (who are usually closet queens, incidentally).


Now, as if America has tackled the homophobia issue fairly successfully – in the media, if not in real life – it seems we are ready to move on to the next area of cultural discomfort:  straight men being attracted to one other non-sexually.  I.e., finding ways to be affectionate – without appearing to be gay, of course, since we’re not a country like Italy, where macho men stroll arm-in-arm in public – and admitting to oneself and openly declaring to someone else that a guy feels, well, love for another guy.  Omigod, not the L word!  Awkward!  It’s bad enough that so many American guys feel uncomfortable in their own skin.  Thank God we have comedy to deal with the issue, and to that degree, we owe a lot to the so-called comedy factory of Judd Apatow, who, in one way or another, has had his hand in a seemingly endless string of hits of the last few years, such as Knocked Up, which includes a scene of straight guys pretending to have an orgy with each other; Superbad, which may well hold the distinction of being the first Hollywood movie where one straight male character says “I love you” to another straight male character without the slightest hint of irony or discomfort; and Pineapple Express, which was self-described as a love story between a pothead and his dealer.  Excluding Knocked Up (although it centers around a houseful of guys who live together), these and other films have coined a catchword, rebranding the Buddy genre with a new, more potent and consciously suggestive moniker:  the Bromance genre. footnote 1 


You may have noticed that all three of those movies have another common thread, namely Seth Rogen, who, along with Bill Maher, has probably done more than any other celebrity in the country to rip the lid off of the last vestiges of taboo over pot smoking.  Although he may have made pot smoking cool to the young and impressionable, I think that to most people – and I don't mean this unkindly – he’s made it blasé.  Although he can squeeze lots of comic mileage out of smoking pot (as well as waste a lot of screen time), he is essentially a funny person who is being true to himself by playing onscreen what he is in real life, a pot smoker.  This increasing openness in Hollywood has innumerable upsides, but one big downside is that it has spawned a generation of what I call lazy filmmakers.  Lazy filmmaking, as defined by me, usually begins with an undeveloped screenplay that’s been backed with major money on the premeditated notion that all of the weaknesses can be worked out (or covered-up) with on-set improvisation.  Think of Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby or The 40 Year Old Virgin or The Wedding Crashers.  All of these films had at least a handful of side-splittingly hilarious moments, all had good premises, and all had underwritten, undigested, undeveloped screenplays – unfinished drafts, essentially – that never would have been greenlighted in a previous era when the story was more highly regarded.  And I think that a lot of the laziness comes from too much pot smoking on the job. footnote 2 


picture - I Love You, ManBesides having endless resources of good screenwriters to fix weak scripts, there are also classes and workshops to help writers write screenplays that don't suck in the first place, most notably Robert McKee’s Story Workshop.  And that’s where John Hamburg and Larry Levin seem to have polished their screenplay that strives to be the ultimate Bromance comedy, I Love You, Man (to which Judd Apatow has no official connection, incidentally; nor does Seth Rogen make so much as a cameo, for the record).  In fact, if you study screenwriting, it’s an excellent film to spot all the major components of the classic three-act structure.  As a film, it has many of the trappings of lazy filmmaking – lots of improvised moments, many dead or inert spots, an almost complete lack of imagination with the camera – but they are so tuned in to the zeitgeist of the moment, and the comedy that springs from it is so sharply observed, that they manage to overcome it.  Why?  Because, even though the screenplay needed lots more tweaking, and even though its cookie-cutter structure is obvious, they at least did their homework.  They had a workable screenplay before they started shooting.  These days, for a Hollywood comedy, that’s a cause for celebration.  Now let’s smoke some pot!


picture - I Love You, ManI Love You, Man has a lot on its mind, and the degree to which it pulls it off successfully is quite commendable.  Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd, who has never been more adorable) is a man who has no guy friends in his life, and hence no best man for his wedding.  His family notices it, which makes his fiancée notice it, which makes his fiancée’s friends notice it, which makes his fiancée’s friends’ husbands notice it.  Suddenly, something that was never an issue in his life becomes a gaping void that needs to be filled.  He goes on a series of man-dates, each a disaster for various reasons.  Then he meets … him!  This really awesome guy, Sydney Fife (Jason Segal, bouncing back well from the artistically catastrophic Forgetting Sarah Marshall).  Sydney is fun, Sydney is smart, Sydney is perceptive, and Sydney is not hung up on having dinner together on their first date (breaking one of the straight-man-date rules that it makes you seem too gay).  And Sydney likes Peter.  They can hang.  They can talk.  Sydney puts things in perspective and helps Peter sort through his emotional baggage.  And Sydney has a kick-ass man cave – NO GURLS ALOWD – where they seal their bond by worshipping the greatest beta-male rock band of all time, Rush.  (Having had a teenage bromance of my own that was largely bonded by adoration of Rush, it was startling to realize that this was a universal experience.)


picture - I Love You, ManAs their friendship develops and parallels a traditional male/female romance, the filmmakers have a lot of fun challenging our conventional perceptions in other ways as well.  Most noteworthy is Peter’s gay brother, Robbie (an excellent Andy Samberg), who is more athletic and masculine than Peter and Sydney put together several times over, and who has lately ventured into picking up straight guys for sex (because, you know, it’s more of a challenge).  The character of Robbie – along with the gay slob couple on The Sarah Silverman Program who never received the gay genes that dictate style and fashion (played by Brian Posehn and Steve Agee) – represents a breakthrough I haven’t seen since an early episode of All in the Family (and thought I might never see again):  the non-limp-wristed, non-swishy, non-lisping, non-effeminate, non-flaming, non-stereotypical gay guy.  Oh, they exist, girlfriend, and they are fierce!  (Not that there’s anything wrong with normal gays.)


picture - I Love You, ManAlso noteable is the minor role of an Indian-American locker room acquaintance, played by Aziz Ansari.  That’s Indian-American as in: his ancestry is of India but he was born and raised in the United States.  It is so rare to see an Indian character as just some guy, without the hint of a foreign accent and not playing a terrorist, scholar, or convenience store clerk, that it’s slightly jarring to our biased ears (but not as jarring as listening to politician Bobby Jindal – somehow Indians with Cajun-tinged deep south accents is still too radical a concept).


picture - I Love You, ManBesides being crazy adorable, Paul Rudd is perfectly cast as the man whose only friends are girls.  The image of him preparing root beer floats with chocolate straws for his fiancée’s buddies is classic.  And although it’s not an Oscar-caliber performance, it was reassuring to see that Jason Segal actually has some range.  It should be mentioned that Lou Ferrigno – the bodybuilder most famous for playing The Hulk – plays himself, and should perhaps not be mentioned that I never knew he had a speech impediment.  However, I think it was consciously woven into the fabric of the film’s constant perception-fucking to see a recognizably famous bruiser who, when he talks, sounds … well, gay. footnote 3


My advice is to see I Love You, Man as soon as possible, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, it is a cultural marker of our era.  It’s going to be remembered for a long, long time, and I’ll be quite surprised if it doesn’t remain a huge hit way beyond its opening weekend.  And that’s the other reason you should see it as soon as possible.  Everyone will be talking about it.  Everyone will tell you how funny it is.  It will be hyped beyond belief.  If you wait too long, you are going to end up expecting to see some kind of miracle of a film.  It ain’t that.  A lot of it is lazy, remember?  But see it while there’s still time to form your own opinion, and before your expectations get too warped.


footnote 1 That’s a contraction of “brotherly romance,” just in case you didn’t get it. 


footnote 2 I am utterly convinced that this was the case with Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s 2001 film Shallow Hal, and I’ve never stopped being mad at them over it.  In that film, Jack Black played the ultimate superficial obnoxious dude who can’t value a woman beyond her physical appearance.  He gets hypnotized by Tony Robbins (huh?) to see only the inner beauty of women, and subsequently falls in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, who physically represents onscreen the beauty he sees inside of her, not realizing that she is actually over 300 pounds and that, ordinarily, he would never have dated her in a million beers.  This film had the potential to be one of the all time social commentary comedy classics, but, unfortunately, they didn’t take the time to develop the screenplay.  Saying the script isn’t tight is an understatement.  It wanders aimlessly all over the place, committing, among other sins, an opening scene that sets a drastically wrong tone and a thoroughly unconvincing resolution in the way Tony Robbins undoes the spell.  Although they missed the mark by a lot, these publicly avowed potheads got close enough to making a truly great comedy that I practically screamed in frustration, “They smoke too much pot!”  


footnote 3 Since this piece was published, people have written to inform me that Lou Ferrigno is deaf, hence his "speech impediment."   


johntopping @






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