Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

They're Not Gay, They Just Prefer Men

Isn't it Bro-mantic: I Love You, Man

Male friendships, the kind that include talking dirty and jamming to the heavy metal music of one’s youth, are an endangered species. That’s the main thesis of the Knocked Up school of romantic comedy, founded by Judd Apatow. Guys share their primary affections with their male friends, but at some point they must grow up, get married, and “take responsibility.” It’s not easy, because women are hopeless at sports and don’t much care for fart jokes. Except for sex, they are hardly any fun at all.

I Love You Man isn’t an Apatow production; it was directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who wrote the script with Larry Levin. But it might as well be. It pays obeseisance to the formula, and features Apatow regulars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an L.A. real estate agent who has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones, The Office), whose parents must have named her in a fit of Salinger worship. Peter is a dream boyfriend: handsome, ambitious but not aggressive, a wizard in the kitchen, and he enjoys an evening watching Chocolat with Zooey. But he has, in Apatovian terms, a problem: he’s a “girlfriend guy.” He has no close male friend who can be his best man. Quelle horreur!

Peter observes with envy Zooey’s circle of girlfriends, who dish about their sex lives and warn her that a man without male friends can be too “clingy.” Most women would probably love a man who prefers spending time with them to “male bonding” at strip clubs, but still, Peter decides to find a buddy through a series of “man dates” arranged by his well-meaning mom (Jane Curtin) and gay brother (Andy Samberg).

After a slew of predictably disastrous meetings — an old man, a “high talker,” and a gay man who plants a deep kiss on our bemused hetero hero — Peter meets Sidney Fife (Segel), a tall, shambling beach bum in comically mismatched clothes. Sidney, who has crashed Peter’s open house trolling for free food, impresses Peter with his complete disregard for convention. Peter pursues Sidney like a besotted schoolboy.

Sidney, a variation on the slacker character usually played by Seth Rogen, is a seductive pal. He lives an arrested-development fantasy life in “the man cave,” a garage filled with toys for boys, including guitars on which the pair, who share a fondness for Rush, jam gleefully to “Tom Sawyer.” Sidney, who describes himself as an investor, has few responsibilities besides jacking off and walking his dog (and refusing to pick up after him). Sidney is a great buddy but a bad influence: he prods Peter to question his marriage plans and causes friction between Peter and Zooey. When Sidney invites Peter to see the senescent Geddy Lee and company in concert, Peter drags Zooey along, and the two men completely ignore her.

Sidney is meant to be a kind of noble savage, but the character is incoherently written. He is at times a dispenser of sage business advice, at other times pathologically antisocial, making a fellatio-themed engagement toast and assaulting Peter’s client, Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno. When Sidney asks Peter for a sizable loan, the movie hints at something darker, but everything is quickly resolved in the manner of a television sitcom.

The movie advances the notion that men can have greater intimacy with men than with women, though except for Peter’s brother, they’re not gay, okay? But it also argues against the idea: Peter was perfectly happy as a man who is most comfortable around women. Not all men think poker games and bong circles are the height of human experience.

Wobbly premise aside, the movie, while not raucously hilarious, has a breezy likeability, mainly owing to the cute and charismatic Rudd, whose character spends much of the movie trying to master the art of casual banter and invariably ends up sounding like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

A version of this appeared in Cleveland Scene.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sinister Squirrel

Late winter afternoon, wireless phone service squirrel waving at drivers and muttering vague obscenities.