In case you missed the trailer: A guy who's about to get married finds that while his fiancee has friends for bridesmaids galore, he doesn't have a best male buddy for the gig... so he goes on the prowl to find one. See, our guy's been mainly a girlfriend's guy -- not gay, just a man who really does love women.
Hey, nice to know that I'm not alone. While I do have some great male friends, I've never thought of myself as a man's man. So in movie role models, I like to see a guy like me -- a guy, that is, who's a healthy heterosexual male but who isn't a guy -- a football-throwing, beer-swilling insensitivo. In John Hamburg's I Love You, Man, one of the best Judd Apatow movies that Apatow didn't make, there are two of them, and they kind of add up to one my-kinda guy.
Paul Rudd as Peter, the pic's adorably hapless hero, is such an atypical male that his chosen sport is fencing, fer chrissake, and when he drinks too many brewskis he projectile pukes. Jason Segel as Sydney, the somewhat more macho dude who loosens Rudd's screws, may be into air guitar, chasing after cougars and refusing to pick up dog poop, but he turns out to be as sensitive as a guy can be.
One I thing I love about movies: they're equal opportunity wish fulfillment fantasy machines. For years, romantic comedies have presented us with contemporary dream girls: lovely and lovable, charmingly kooky, perhaps even beautiful-but-difficult, but nevertheless the kind of woman most guys would cherish... if they could only be found in off-the-screen reality. Now that men have raided and virtually taken over Romantic Comedy-land, the contemporary Bromantic Comedy has yielded a male equivalent: the kind of guy most guys would love to have as a best friend, if they, too existed in the world as we know it.
While he may be a bit too good to be true, Sydney-as-dream-girl is the fundamental gag at the core of I Love You, Man, a movie that successfully reverses what had been the stock-in-trade of rom-com constructs for decades. Here, our boy has already got the girl -- it's the lack of a best buddy in his life that's keeping him unfulfilled. Peter's pursuit of Sydney is what drives this boy meets/loses/gets boy comedy.
Fiancee Zooey (Rashida Jones) is a perfect soul-mate match for Peter, and true to form, even when Peter and Zooey hit their requisite Dark Moment break-up beat, it doesn't get too dark for too long. And Sydney, like most rom-com dream girls before him, is an idealized perfect buddy. His less-feminized, more overtly macho persona completes the near-wussy Peter. It's the scenes where Rudd and Segel are just like, y'know, hangin', that the movie settles into its warmest and fuzziest groove.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Rudd has been waiting for a leading role like this for some time, and it's great to see him make the most of it. There aren't too many other actors around who can make social ineptitude and an infinite variety of cringing embarrassments seem quite so endearing. And Segel -- he who had "the girl's part" in last year's Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- fits into his quirky-slob Professor Higgins role with admirable ease. Watching him continually let poor flailing Rudd off the hook in one humiliation after another is an oddly satisfying pleasure.
All in all, it's the sunny congeniality of this casually raunchy rom-com that's so appealing. Nobody gets badly hurt (even when one character is attacked by the Hulk, i.e. Lou Ferigno out of makeup, he doesn't get his head busted, but put into a "sleep" hold) and despite making a total jackass out of himself, adorable Paul gets not only the girl but the guy in the end. (Oh, did I give something away? Sorry, I was writing this for people who'd at least seen a single movie.)
The peculiar appeal of Paul Rudd as bromantic hero in this pic was aptly analyzed in Richard Corliss's Time review of the movie:
There's a reason Peter seems so... so very odd. He's an avatar of traditional Hollywood romantic comedy, where the male tries to be suave and caring, to be the man women love. But that form of movie romance is anachronistic, when most pictures insist that the crucial relationship is guy-guy. Peter has honed the wrong skills; in this movie he doesn't have to get the girl; he already has her. He has to become a supporter of Guy Marriage. And he needs another guy, someone who lives in the modern movie world, to teach him. Peter and Sydney represent old and new movie men as sure as Vivien Leigh's Blanche duBois and Marlon Brando's Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire cued the collision of old-movie refinement and the new brutalism.
True that. And maybe it's because the tropes of I Love You, Man already felt so familiar, that I found myself wondering after seeing it if we might be ready for the next step. With the buddy movie's bromantic subtext long-established (see Time's compendium of Top 10 Buddy Love Pics), and so many "boy meets boy" movies already extant and coming down the pike, maybe we can think about... moving past it?
If anybody has a handle on where the next nouvelle vague of romantic comedy may come from, it ought to be this gang:
Self-proclaimed "The Fempire," this quartet of hot screenwriters (Dana Fox, Diablo Cody, Liz Meriwether, and Lorene Scafaria) appears poised to give our genre a new spin, should they be so inclined. And judging from Scafaria's work on Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, one of them at least knows fresh from dated.
The NY Times' coverage of this crew has already brewed a tempest in a teapot, with its emphasis on the women's sexuality and girly-ness infuriating many in the blogosphere (It certainly was weird and culturally tone-deaf of the Times to print the profile in their Style section; I haven't seen any puff pieces on say, Simon Beaufoy relegated to the fashion pages, have you?). But controversy aside, Cody and her posse could be the ones to push the rom-com from its present boy-centric romper room into the big girl's bullpen.
How about a girl meets girl romantic comedy? Not a lesbian love story like Saving Face or Kissing Jessica Stein (what is the deal with these gerunds?), but a movie where the feuding-at-first buddies are babes. It's been done before, of course (in this sense, Leslie Dixon's Outrageous Fortune is a girl/girl rom-com classic, and Audrey Wells' Truth About Cats and Dogs was a great one, too). It'd be a welcome shift, 'cause as I never tire of asking in this space: Where are the rom-com women?!
We couldn't call it a Chick Flick, obviously... Romanchick Comedy doesn't exactly sing, so I put it to you folks. Say we give the guys a rest and let some girls take over, be they slackers or mackers or some types yet unseen. What'll we call the female version of a bromantic comedy?
Maybe if we name the genre, someone will start making the movies.