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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), but what I’m talking about isn’t just the recurrence of a lot of familiar faces (although that’s part of it, to be sure).  No, it’s the philosophy of filling out all of the supporting roles, even the small ones, with a group of very talented, very funny actors and actresses, who help make each and every scene in the film funny and memorable.  While Rudd and Segal kill in almost every scene they’re in, many of the most memorable moments of the film feature the supporting cast: the terrific relationship between Andy Samberg’s Robbie and his and Peter’s father played by the brilliant J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, Juno), or the contentious bickering between married couple Denise and Barry (Jamie Pressly and Jon Favreau).  Rashida Jones also proves that her success on The Office wasn’t a fluke, as she creates a very endearing character in Peter’s fiancee, Zooey.  Playing “the girlfriend” in a movie like this can be a thankless role, but she injects Zooey with a lot of warmth, energy, and humor.

In the end, what really characterizes the “Apatow style” to me is the ability to mine comedy from characters and situations that, while extreme, are still human.  I get disinterested very quickly in movies in which characters are just ridiculous cartoons, and/or when they do incredibly unrealistic things just to advance the plot.  Luckily, there’s not too much of that going on in I Love You, Man.  The idea of a man without a lot of guy friends is not such an absurd notion.  The characters in Peter’s life, while many of them are certainly bizarre, are not just caricatures.

All of this would be moot, of course, were the film not hysterically funny.  Which it is.  So go see it, already!

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