It's been trendy as of late to label any movie dealing with male bonding as a "bromance," and if flicks like Superbad and Pineapple Express simply flirted with the concept, I Love You, Man finally locks down the deal officially. That's right, I Love You, Man may be the first bona fide Bromantic Comedy, replete with extended honeymoon phase, awkward breakup, heartache, and...well, it would hardly be fair to give away the ending. Strangely enough, unlike the aforementioned examples of the newly christened comedy subgenre, Judd Apatow's name is nowhere to be found in the credits. But while I Love You, Man may bear all the visible and thematic trappings of your typical Apatow comedy, it begins to feel more like a Woody Allen movie as the relationship between the two protagonists takes precedence over the gags and we're drawn deeper into the dynamics of how they interact.
Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a great guy; trouble is he's not that adept at male bonding. He's always had more female friends than male ones, and for that reason he's simply never mastered the social skills many guys develop while screaming at the television during sporting events or talking trash over the poker table. Peter has just gotten engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones), a good-natured social butterfly with too many friends to count. When the subject of the wedding party comes up, Zooey has more than enough gal pals to form a healthy bridal party while Peter can't even manage to scrounge up a best man. After overhearing Zooey's friends deride his lack of male companions, Peter organizes a series of "man dates" in hopes of making some new friends and finding some guys to fill out the wedding party. As with any good romance, however, it's only when Peter stops looking that "true love" wanders into his life. Peter is attempting to sell Lou Ferrigno's house when laid-back cougar hunter Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) shows up at the open house in search of some free food and a little female companionship. His easygoing honesty catches Peter off guard, and the two guys exchange business cards before going their separate ways. A few days later, Peter decides to follow up with Sydney, and in no time they've become fast friends. But how can Peter maintain a lasting male friendship when he doesn't even know the rules of the game, and, even more importantly, what effect will Sydney's unconventional outlook on life have on Peter and Zooey's impending nuptials?
If watching Peter work his hardest to grasp the mysterious dynamics of male relationships is half the fun of I Love You, Man, the other half is watching Sydney give him a crash course in machismo that helps draw Peter out of his shell. As a result, the humor in I Love You, Man is more of the character-driven variety than the barrage of raunchy gags that have become a staple of the Apatow productions. That's not to say that the film doesn't have its fair share of unexpected, gut-punch laughs -- it does -- only that those moments are less frequent and more carefully dispersed than most audiences may expect. It's more Pineapple Express than Walk Hard or Step Brothers, and anyone looking for the kind of exaggerated, absurd laughs on display in the latter two films may be caught off guard by I Love You, Man's gentle, genuinely affectionate charm. Rudd and Segel are pitch perfect, respectively, as the nice guy who puts all of his energy into his relationships and the genuine guy who's locked in a state of arrested development. A supporting character is supposed to affect change in the main protagonist, and Segel shoulders that responsibility with confidence to spare. Likewise, Rudd makes his character's transformation entirely believable. We can see Peter changing right before our eyes, and that's as much a testament to Rudd's talents as it is to John Hamburg and Larry Levin's smart screenplay, a work that gives its characters plenty of room to discover themselves and evolve yet still manages to keep things moving in the right direction at a satisfying pace. The reason that I Love You, Man seems to meander somewhat in the middle act isn't because the writers couldn't figure out which direction to go with the plot, rather that they realized that watching these two characters interact and grow is just as interesting -- if not more so -- than watching them contend with some contrived plot device that exists solely to create dramatic tension. Supporting players Jaime Pressly, Jon Favreau, and Rob Huebel also contribute plenty of laughs, though the one exception to the strong cast of co-stars is Sarah Burns, who makes the unfortunate misstep of channeling Kristen Wiig. For many critics and moviegoers it's become obvious that the Apatow crew and their ilk are this generation's defining figures of comedy. Still, should they coast on their laurels and fail to explore new ground, their success is sure to be fleeting rather than influential and long-term. With I Love You, Man, Hamburg and Levin borrow the surface traits of the Apatow comedy and cleverly retrofit a story about male friendship with the familiar trappings of your typical male/female-based romantic comedy. The result is a film that's comfortable and familiar, but at the same time feels fresh, fun, and original.