Intimacy in same-sex friendships

I Love You, Man: 105 minutes. Rated: M. Director: John Hamburg. Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones.

I Love You Too, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida JonesTalk show host Rove McManus famously asks his guests, 'Who would you turn gay for?' (Or '...turn straight for?' as the case may be.)

This gimmick is in fact a popularisation of a party game, best played late at night, after a few drinks, with a circle of close friends. The idea is, each person in turn nominates a celebrity, of opposite gender to that of their sexual preference, with whom they'd fancy a hypothetical rendezvous.

It's about feeling comfortable among your friends and with your sexual identity. It's also about having a laugh, and perhaps trying to surprise each other.

All of which is relevant for two reasons. The first is that this week's film, I Love You, Man, has a lot to say about intimacy in platonic relationships. The other is that the film's star, Paul Rudd, is my 'person I would turn gay for'.

Readers who, like myself, were teenagers during the 1990s, may know Rudd best as Josh from Clueless. Of late he's a staple of those crass, but strangely deep, Judd Apatow-brand rom-coms — think The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

I Love You, Man is not as polished as those gems (and Apatow is not involved), but it does follow in a similar vein of lowbrow relationship comedy for grown-ups.

Rudd plays Peter, an LA real estate agent, recently engaged to Zooey (Jones). The problem is, while Peter's always been a sweetie with the ladies, he never got his head around the whole male bonding thing. He is sans best friend and, subsequently, sans best man.

And so Peter sets out on a series of platonic man-dates, with the aim of meeting and making a male friend upon whom he can bestow the best man honour. The first attempts are spectacular failures — cue the projectile vomiting and misjudged, unreciprocated gay kiss.

Peter has all but given up. Perhaps his mum can be his best man?

And then chance, or fate, brings Sydney (Segel) into Peter's orbit. Chronic SNAG Peter is drawn to laidback Sydney's wisdom and wit on the subject of blokedom. They hit it off. But Zooey is not quite as enamoured with her fiancé's overbearing and time-intensive new buddy.

Like Apatow's films, I Love You, Man gains currency from its appreciation of the nuances of adult relationships. Hamburg, in subverting the rom-com formula, has nailed the neediness, the emotional give-and-take and the distinct brand of intimacy that personifies close platonic friendships, just as it does romantic partnerships.

And Rudd and Segel nail the necessary chemistry, whether they be bonding over beer and the 'best fish tacos in the world', or playing at garage rock stars by jamming — badly, but enthusiastically — to old charts by cheesy Canadian band Rush.

But the film has to work harder than Apatow's films to milk the laughs out of its crass humour, and has less success. The projectile vomiting works better than you might expect (characters' reactions can make or break this kind of sight gag). But jokes about dog pooh and geriatric porn just don't cut it.

And then there's Rudd himself. This is his movie. He doesn't have the charisma to make it as a bona fide leading man, but as a comedic character actor, he's underrated. He portrays with boyish charm and humour Peter's social ineptitude among men, contrasted with his easy and effeminate manner among women.

The film's funniest moments come when Peter, out of his depth but desperate to fit in, tries to mix it with the  'man's man' husband (John Favreau) of one of Zooey's friends, and when he proffers a furious and heartfelt face-slap to a particularly obnoxious foe (Rob Huebel).

Rudd has every facial tic, awkward mumble and miscued, desperate attempt at coolness down pat, and still manages to come off as a loveable hero. I stand by my choice.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: tim kroenert, i love you man, john hamburg, paul rudd, jason segel, rashida jones, j k simmons

 

 

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