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Finally, an honestly funny movie

POSTED: March 18, 2009 10:30 p.m.
/Paramount Pictures

Robbie (Andy Samberg) and Pete (Paul Rudd), right, share a moment in the bromance "I Love You, Man."

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"I Love You, Man" has all the makings of a sleeper. The movie has gotten a minimal marketing push and is flying below the radar.

But that lack of buzz is deceiving, because this modern spin on the romantic comedy is one of the most purely enjoyable movies released in months.

Straight-laced, repressed real estate agent Pete (Paul Rudd) has just become engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones). He quickly realizes he has so few males friends he can’t even fill up the wedding party with groomsmen. So he begins the awkward process of making new friends with other straight men, which is harder than it might seem.

To help out, Pete’s mother (Jane Curtin) and father (J.K. Simmons), his gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), Zooey, and Zooey’s friends all set him up on blind "man-dates." This is more embarrassing than helpful.

Finally, Pete meets Sydney (Jason Segel), who is laid-back, confident and fiercely single. While Pete has tried very hard to carve out a life as a responsible, sensitive, middle-class adult, Sydney takes almost nothing seriously.

Pete and Sydney quickly become tight friends and form a sort of Gen-X odd couple. But while Pete is drawn into Sydney’s cavalier, macho lifestyle, it of course causes conflict with Zooey.

"I Love You, Man" combines the romantic comedy with the buddy movie in an interesting way. The romantic comedy formula gets flipped as Pete’s and Sydney’s friendship becomes more important than Pete’s and Zooey’s romance. Yet, the movie looks at that asexual friendship through the prism of a romantic relationship by using terms like man-date and showing Pete searching for friends on social networking Web sites.

The movie deserves as much praise for what it isn’t as for what it is. It could have easily devolved into offensive homophobia like "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," or it could have become a one-joke movie, like (insert Jim Carrey movie here).

Nor does "I Love You, Man" overreach. The filmmakers don’t try to force a big twist or revelation. They thankfully just stick with what grows naturally out of the film’s simple scenario rather than forcing something outlandish to cater to the short-attention-span crowd.

I wouldn’t exactly call this a "smart" movie, but it is restrained and occasionally quite clever.

Segel and Rudd stick pretty closely to their usual types. Rudd is earnest and awkward, while Segel is cocky and uncomfortably open when talking about sex and relationships.

The supporting cast is packed with funny people, including Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly (who work extremely well together as a constantly-bickering married couple), Sarah Burns and Thomas Lennon. Unlike so many recent comedies (notably "Four Christmases," which wasted the talents of several actors), this movie actually gives these supporting players things to do.

And that’s really the bottom line. There are no comedic pyrotechnics here, just funny people doing and saying a lot of funny things. Afterward, I had trouble remembering any scene that didn’t provoke a laugh.

Because the women (especially Pressly and Burns) deliver so many of the jokes and because the guy talk is mostly benign, this works as a date movie as well as a guy movie.

Like Segel’s character, this is a fairly laid back movie. It provides a lot of laughs without getting too complicated.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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