By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 28, 2009)
Oh, bloody hell…not another Rush tribute band.
Matt Groening once observed: “Sex is funny. The French are a funny people. Then why is it that no French sex comedies are funny?” On the other hand, Roger Ebert once lamented about “a trend in which Hollywood buys French comedies and experiments on them to see if they can be made into English with all the humor taken out.” I generally concur with both those sentiments, but I think I have found the exception to Groening’s and Ebert’s rules- in the guise of a smart, funny and warm French comedy that has inspired an equally smart, funny and warm American remake.
Okay, so Patrice Leconte’s Mon Meilleur Ami (my review) was not a “sex” comedy, nor was it a huge hit with critics or audiences (I caught flak from some readers for including it in my Top 10 films list for 2007). I’m not gloating here-but obviously, someone felt Leconte’s film to be worthy of a Hollywood makeover, and the latest vehicle for Paul Rudd. I Love You, Man is all that (and a large orange soda).
Rudd is Peter Klaven, a good-natured L.A. real estate agent who has decided to pop the question to his ladylove, Zooey (Rashida Jones). Zooey immediately phones up a bevy of close girlfriends to share the happy news. When she asks her fiancé why he isn’t jumping on the horn to tell all his pals, he mumbles some vague excuse and tries to change the subject. It turns out that while Peter is adept at meeting women, he is more diffident when it comes to interacting with the dudes; he can’t readily cough up a candidate for his Best Man. Someone is going to have to come up with an Action Plan.
Desperate to find a good bud on such short notice, Peter seeks assistance from his gay brother (SNL’s Andy Samberg), who encourages him to go on a few “man dates”. Zooey pitches in. brokering a “poker night” invite for Peter from her best friend’s reluctant husband (a skulking Jon Favreau, hilariously effective here playing a supreme dick weed). Most of these intros and invites end in embarrassment and/or some form of social disaster. Just when all seems lost, a Dude ex Machina arrives in a free-spirited man child named Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). Teach me to dance, Zorba.
In its best moments , I was reminded of Barry Levinson’s Diner, which I consider the granddaddy of all modern “bromantic” comedies, as well as one of the most keenly perceptive observations about male friendship ever put on screen. I think it’s interesting to note that screenwriter Larry Levin (who co-scripted with director John Hamburg) also wrote a classic 2-part Seinfeld episode called “The Boyfriend”, in which Jerry develops a “man crush” on one of the N.Y. Mets (this film could be seen as an extrapolation on that theme).
In its worst moments, the film threatens to lean on that tiresome crutch of cheap gross-out humor that has put me off contemporary “comedies”, but thankfully, the reins are judiciously pulled in (Woody Allen has managed to make tons of funny films over a 40 year period without one scene involving projectile vomiting-so why can’t the current crop of comedy directors take lessons from this?).
Rudd and Segel (who previously teamed up in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) play off each other extremely well, and are obviously developing a solid comedy duo franchise (I think it would be a real kick to see them remake one of the Hope-Crosby “Road” movies-or perhaps that’s just me).
Rudd continues to perfect an onscreen persona as the modern comic Everyman. Segel’s performance recalls Donal Logue’s slovenly yet endearing self-styled hipster saint in The Tao of Steve. Thomas Lennon (best known as “Lieutenant Dangle” from the wonderfully twisted comedy series, Reno 911) is a riot as a love struck stalker (no spoilers, please). Lou Ferrigno (as himself) is an unexpected delight, unveiling some previously hidden comic chops, and air guitar geeks will swoon at the cameo appearance by the Holy Trinity of Canadian prog-rock. And if you have to ask who that is-you ain’t my bro, man!