Ann Hornaday Movie Review of 'I Love You, Man'

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel star in this comedy about a groom-to-be who finds his best man through a series of "man-dates," but finds that his new pal and his fiance (Rashida Jones) don't quite mix. Video by Paramount/DreamWorks
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 2009

Whether you love "I Love You, Man" will most likely depend on whether you love Paul Rudd. And if you don't love Paul Rudd, you should.

Just watch him in the first few scenes of "I Love You, Man," when his character, Peter Klaven, listens in on a raunchy conference call between his fiancee, Zooey (Rashida Jones), and her best girlfriends. Or listen as he makes up fake guy-talk when he goes on a first man date with Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), the big, fun-loving lug Peter befriends in the hopes of finding a best man for his wedding. Only Rudd could mine comic gold from just standing there and muttering things like "joben" and "totes magotes."

After delivering scene-stealing turns in the Judd Apatow dude-driven juggernauts "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," Rudd claims the much-deserved spotlight in "I Love You, Man," which in its own endearing way tweaks the very male-bonding pieties that those movies made a fortune celebrating. (That graphic, girl-centric phone call is just one breathtakingly blue example.) Peter is that rare creature in American cinema: a man who genuinely likes and respects women. It's the job of Sydney, who lives in a self-described man-cave with a steady supply of pot, pornography and post-adolescent playthings, to make Peter into a "real" man, i.e., a creature entirely without conscience or consideration for others.

Segel's shambling, gentle-giant physique gives him a simultaneously sloppy and threatening air, and as soon as Peter and Sydney bond over sexual confessions and a mutual passion for the band Rush, it looks like "I Love You, Man" might turn into "The Cable Guy." Sydney's refusal to clean up after his dog on the Venice, Calif., promenade is played for laughs, for example, but it bears a darker whiff of pathology, too. Thankfully, director and co-writer John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly") keeps "I Love You, Man" on the light side, thanks in large part to Rudd's genuine warmth and humanity, and some refreshing touches that make the movie something more than just another snickering celebration of all things testosterone-tinged.

For one thing, the girl isn't made out to be the humorless harridan of so many Apatow movies of yore (think of the Rudd character's bitter half in "Knocked Up," played by Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann). Jones's Zooey is smart and successful and doesn't punish her man for indulging his inner guy; if anything she encourages it, until Sydney's rebel nature veers into a more troubling violation of boundaries. Then there are the supporting performances, including Andy Samberg's welcome, un-swishy performance as Peter's gay brother and one cameo that, literally, rocks.

But the best reason to love "I Love You, Man" is Rudd, one of the screen's funniest actors working today, who for years has been relegated to cameos and supporting gigs and here, finally, proves he can carry a movie all by his shy, tongue-tied, awkward and thoroughly winning and adorable self.

Is the premise of "I Love You, Man" thinner than the paper Maxim is printed on? No doubt. (It's never clear why, if Peter is close enough to his brother to ask him to set him up on a series of "man dates," he can't just ask his brother to be his best man.) Does the movie feature a by-now yawn-inducing quota of jokes involving masturbation, projectile vomiting and flatulence? Positutely. Does Paul Rudd make the whole thing worth it? Totes magotes.

I Love You, Man (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for pervasive profanity, including crude sexual references.

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