Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Love You, Man

Dir. John Hamburg

Before I begin I should probably account for a certain pretension which may also be simply a viewing trend, one that I find tolerable although perhaps not entirely excusable: I don't go to see too many soon-to-be-blockbuster films. I am somewhat intimidated by the modern cineplex with its blocky 50s bomb shelter aesthetic. Rather I find myself in the would be smoky dens of indie cinema. Its not that I'm indifferent to the visual depiction of subconscious desires fulfilled by the big names and recognizable faces of Hollywood, it's more that I am a young and prone to idealism. Having limited time and funds I'd prefer to shell out nine bucks for a movie that expands my understanding of humanity rather than one that makes me giggle and drool (although it's a plus if both happen). Having said that I did go see I Love You, Man mostly of my free will. As Hollywood material goes it looked promising. I love Paul Rudd and am in support of any former Freaks and Geeks character getting what's owed to them (I'm looking at you Seth Rogen). The problem is that I Love You, Man was just what I hoped it wouldn't but nonetheless assumed it would be: a formulaic comedy. Still, it is important to recognize that this formula works and is in almost every way more suitable to the appreciative tastes of a wide audience as compared to many of the films projected upon the silver screens of modern indie cinemas.

The premise of the film is textbook with a few promising but ultimately subverted footnotes. Promising young suburban yuppie Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is all set to marry adorably banal sweetheart Zooey (Rashida Jones) when he realizes that he doesn't have a best man for his wedding. Introduce caricature family: loving but sometimes painfully blunt mother, dry droll father, and understated gay brother. Gay brother, Robbie (Andy Sanberg), who beyond this appropriately bland title displays almost no homoerotic tendencies, sets up Peter on a series of “man dates” in an attempt to find a best man. This scenario allows for a few guffaws, but rapidly switches genre gears to reveal that Peter is having difficulty marketing himself as a Realtor. Enter casual, mostly unbelievable d00d-guru complete with basic psycho-babble on latent desires that most first year college students, having breezed through a few paraphrased readings of Freud, have at the ready: Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). Segel plays his character as if Sydney was a predestined archetype rather than a vapid bro; his laziness in acquiring a relationship with his character is not only obvious but embarrassing. Paul Rudd, known for his characters with twisted, dark humor and fierce Independence plays his role like a well dressed man whose shoes don't quite fit. Despite the fact he has acquired the rest of the outfit, it is the discomfort and on screen awkwardness that gives away his own reticence to play such a lifeless character. It is here that too many critics have confused miscasting and misplaced actor empathy with originality.

While the plot moves forward aptly given its tendencies towards the obvious and predictable, screen writer Larry Levin develops something resembling a platonic drama by way of a homoerotic comedy. While many great opportunities for developing this narrative are lost he does capitalize on the congenital irony of heterosexual brother Peter getting mixed up in so many insinuatingly homoerotic scenarios while homosexual brother Robbie struggles to find a suitable relationship while simultaneously exerting a strong hetero influence in the gym where he works as a personal trainer. However, this more subtle (I use this term very loosely) humor is overpowered by Levin's over reliance on tried and true formulas for easy laughs. For instance the reoccurring homogenization of The Office-like awkward and immediately regrettable comments made by Peter, Sydney's jejune topical humor, and Sarah Burns (as Zooey's friend Hailey) regrettable choice of wearing thin a Saturday Night Live skit that wasn't all that funny to begin with.

The film makes a few good passes at drama and few more at humor and finishes up with everything in its right place. Technically speaking the film is an excellent example of pure comedy. However, that is precisely its problem. Being aware of a genre's modus operandi is one thing; following it without embellishment is quite another. I Love You, Man encounters plenty of opportunities to utilize more sophisticated and engaging humor but instead willingly delegates itself to that ever growing collection of forgettable films that are too busy reproducing current social values and comedic/dramatic standards to recognize that they are dated almost as soon as they are released.

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