MALE FRIENDSHIPS, the kind that include talking dirty and jamming to the heavy-metal music of one's youth, are an endangered species. That's the guiding philosophy of the Knocked Up school of romantic comedy, founded by Judd Apatow. Guys share their primary affections with their male friends, but at some point they must grow up, get married and "take responsibility." It's hard, because women are hopeless at sports and don't much care for fart jokes. Aside from the sex, they're hardly any fun at all.
I Love You, Man isn't an Apatow production; it was directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who wrote the script with Larry Levin. But it pays homage to the formula, and stars Apatow alumni Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an L.A. realtor who has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones of The Office), whose parents apparently named her in a fit of Salinger worship. Peter is a dream boyfriend: handsome, ambitious but not aggressive, talented in the kitchen and bedroom, and a man who enjoys an evening watching Chocolat with his fiancée. But he has, in Apatovian terms, a problem: He's a "girlfriend guy." He has no close male friend who can be his best man. Quelle horreur!
Peter observes with envy Zooey's circle of girlfriends, who dish about their sex lives and warn her that a man without male friends can be "clingy." Most women would adore a man who prefers spending time with them to "male bonding" at strip clubs, but still, Peter decides to find a buddy through a series of "man dates" arranged by his well-meaning mom (Jane Curtin) and gay brother (Andy Samberg).
After a slew of predictably disastrous meetings - an old man, a "high talker" and a gay man who plants a deep kiss on our bemused hetero hero - Peter meets Sydney Fife (Segel), a tall, shambling beach bum in comically mismatched clothes. Sydney, who has crashed Peter's open house trolling for free food, impresses Peter with his fart talk and reckless disregard for convention. Peter pursues Sydney like a besotted schoolboy.
A variant of the slacker character usually played by Seth Rogen, Sydney is a seductive pal. He lives an arrested-adolescent fantasy life in "the man cave," a garage filled with boys' toys, including guitars on which the pair, who share a fondness for the band Rush, jam gleefully to "Tom Sawyer." Sydney, who claims to be an investor, has few responsibilities besides jacking off and walking his dog (and refusing to pick up after him). Sydney is a great buddy but a bad influence: He prods Peter to question his marriage plans, creating friction between Peter and Zooey.
Sydney is meant to be a kind of Rousseauian noble savage, but the character is incoherently written. He's at times a dispenser of sage business advice, at other times pathologically antisocial, making an engagement toast about blowjobs and assaulting Peter's client, Lou "The Hulk" Ferrigno. There are hints at something darker when Sydney asks Peter for a sizable loan, but everything is neatly resolved in the manner of a TV sitcom.
The movie advances the notion that men can enjoy greater intimacy with men than with women, though of course, they're not gay. But it also argues against the idea: Peter was perfectly happy as a man who prefers the company of women. Not all men think poker games and bong circles are the height of human experience.
Wobbly premise aside, the movie, while not raucously hilarious, has a breezy likeability, mainly owing to the charismatic Rudd, whose character spends much of the movie trying to master the art of casual banter and invariably ends up sounding like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.