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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

I Love You, Man  (2009)
Directed by John Hamburg.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns, Rob Huebel, Aziz Ansari, Thomas Lennon, Mather Zickel, Lou Ferrigno.
2009 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 7, 2009.
Appallingly unfunny and about as charming as a natural disaster, "I Love You, Man" is concerned with nothing other than aping the formula of Judd Apatow's canon of filmmaking and producing credits. Writer-director John Hamburg (2004's "Along Came Polly") and co-writer Larry Levin (2001's "Dr. Dolittle 2") fail miserably, not only at their concoction of bawdy humor mixed with more serious undercurrents, but at their very attempt at making a movie, period. How can the viewer possibly connect with characters who are this far away from relatable human beings? Each one either belongs on a different planet or simply mugs in front of the camera like a preening, ultra-obnoxious talent show contestant with no discernible gift to show off. The lot of them are at the mercy of a lame story, a lamer script, and no payoff to any of it. Indeed, so bland, weightless and utterly forgettable is the film on virtually every level that one starts to assume he or she is hallucinating rather than watching an actual movie.

Real estate agent Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) has just popped the question to live-in girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones). While she wastes no time in calling up gal pals Hailey (Sarah Burns) and Denise (Jaime Pressly) to chirp away about her engagement, Peter has no one but his family to really give the news to. What is missing from his life, he decides, is a best friend to call his own. If he can find that, then he'll have a best man for his wedding. Enter Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy who shows up at an Open House Peter is hosting and charms him into submission. Pretty soon, these two guys are hanging out together and having a great time. When Zooey discovers that Peter has been sharing some intimate details about their relationship to Sydney, it threatens to cause a strife between the lovebirds. And when Sydney goes one step further and makes an overly forward, irresponsible move toward helping out Peter's business, their friendship is suddenly put into jeopardy.

There is a motion picture to be made to explore the subject of what pop-culture has labeled a "bromance," but "I Love You, Man" isn't it. The plot as it currently stands is flawed on a fundamental level. For one, Peter's relationship with Sydney is not organic, but something that he is specifically looking for, despite seeming completely well-adjusted at the film's start. More offensively, though, his goal of finding a best man for his wedding should be a non-issue; he does, after all, have a younger brother, Robbie (Andy Samberg), whom he is close with. That there is never so much as a discussion or passing mention of the possibility that Robbie should step into the role causes Peter to appear thoughtless and disrespectful. Does the thought not even cross his mind because Robbie is gay? Indeed, director John Hamburg's treatment of homosexuality is so far off-course that it's despicable, painting every gay character as someone who is solely defined by this single characteristic. When Robbie's and Peter's father Oswald (J.K. Simmons) declares that Robbie is his best friend, he does not say, "I love my son," but "I love my gay son," as if that one word is the only reason he is looked at as different from the straight-laced Peter. Other side characters, like initial man-date Doug (Thomas Lennon), who kisses Peter at the end of the night and proceeds to pop up throughout with a creepy predatory smirk on his face, are depicted not as people, but as caricatures.

"I Love You, Man" doesn't stop there in its travelogue of freaks. Peter's coworker, Tevin (Rob Huebel), is introduced by sending porn to Peter's office computer that he cannot close from his screen. Peter understandably is embarrassed as Tevin yells out across a maze of cubicles, "We've got a squirter!" Who, pray tell, acts like this in real life? Meanwhile, Zooey's friends are treated as nothing more than flimsy advice-givers whose lives are run by the gossip they dispel. Denise's husband, Barry (Jon Favreau), has a look of disdain on his face in every scene, unable to forget the way Peter accidentally projectile vomited on him early on. Har, har. Would-be comic set-pieces come and go without any understanding of how humor works. When Sydney agrees to go on a golfing double-date with Hailey alongside Peter and Zooey, and the ball Hailey hits smashes into Sydney's leg, the audience is asked to laugh just because physical pain has been endured. There is no curveball thrown on this meek setup and punchline, and the sequence ends with Sydney muttering how he shouldn't have come. The entire movie plays out just like this, the viewer eagerly awaiting a reason to chuckle and never finding one.

Paul Rudd (2008's "Role Models") is an affable actor, always reliable. He does what he can with Peter, just as Rashida Jones (2004's "Little Black Book") tries to give Zooey a little more substance beyond her hypocritical ways (she scolds Peter for discussing their sex life with Sydney even as she constantly is doing the same thing with her own friends). The supporting cast is misused to the point where they needn't have bothered showing up. Jaime Pressly (2004's "Torque") is hilarious on TV's "My Name Is Earl," but you would never suspect it here. She, along with Jon Favreau (2008's "Four Christmases"), Andy Samberg (2007's "Hot Rod"), J.K. Simmons (2009's "New in Town") and Jane Curtin (2006's "The Shaggy Dog"), are rendered shallow and boring.

And then there's Jason Segel (2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), a charming up-and-comer who has the unlucky misfortune of portraying the movie's largest miscalculation of a character. Sydney Fife swings into the film for no purpose other than because he is to be Peter's best friend. Screenwriters John Hamburg and Larry Levin are not interested in exploring Sydney as a person; all we learn about him is that he is a happily single investor (investor of what?) who doesn't clean up his dog's droppings in public areas. So sketchily conceived is Sydney, in fact, that we patiently wait for the other shoe to drop. Has he been paid by someone to serve as Peter's BFF? Is he a con artist scamming him? Is he really not as well-off as he claims, and is hiding a dark, lonely side? Amazingly, none of the above. He is who he is—yet another victim of terrible writing.

In cinema, there is scarcely anything more miserable than a comedy that thinks it is funny, but doesn't try hard enough to be funny. "I Love You, Man" goes along its insufferable way, pretending to be the height of hilarity while offering up a roster of internally ugly characters put through the paces of a story that lacks sense, conflict, and consequence for their behavior. When the ordeal is over and the end credits blessedly show themselves, it almost comes as the one joke that works. Is that seriously all there is? "I Love You, Man" is charmless from one end to the next, condescension and desperation seeping from its filmic pores. At this early date in March, it is the year's first lock for December's annual worst list.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman