I Love You, Man

Dir. John Hamburg (DreamWorks) -- 3.5 STARS

Watching her fiancé conduct a phone conversation with an unidentified acquaintance, Zooey (Rashida L. Jones ’97) suddenly turns around and gleefully signals to her girlfriends, “It’s a date!” Her approval of her husband-to-be’s apparent infidelity is explained away by her friends’ enthusiastic responses: “It’s a man-date! This is a man-date!”

Their excitement is understandable, since the cult of male friendship has been endorsed on film for decades—imagine Abbott without Costello or Maverick without Goose. Lest we take this sacred institution for granted, “I Love You, Man,” the latest effort from “Along Came Polly” director John Hamburg, conducts a humorous investigation into the pitfalls of a life lacking in bromance.

“Here’s the deal,” Robbie Klaven (Andy Samberg) informs Zooey, his future sister-in-law. “Peter’s always been a girlfriend guy. He put all his focus and energy into relationships, and all his dude friends just fell by the wayside.” With a wedding date fast approaching and a severe dearth of male acquaintances, California realtor Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) arranges a series of uncomfortable “man-dates” in order to find a Best Man and flesh out his half of the wedding party. Rudd has mastered the task of playing the haplessly endearing male lead, and his struggle to be one of the boys is simultaneously laughable and charming.

Peter eventually hits it off with supposedly employed slacker Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). Rudd and Segel have worked together on two Judd Apatow films already—“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Knocked Up”—and the strong chemistry between them is evident onscreen. In fact, it’s easy to mistake “I Love You, Man” for an Apatow film. The typically comical, awkward conversations and crude humor are provided by a quirky cast including Andy Samberg as the voice of reason to his clueless older brother; Lou Ferrigno, television’s former “Incredible Hulk”; and J.K. Simmons, essentially reprising his role as the father in “Juno.”

Unlike Apatow, however, Hamburg focuses on the intricacies and discrepancies between genders when it comes to same-sex bonding. Peter is often made painfully aware of just how open Zooey and her girlfriends can be with each other, especially when discussing their love lives. He calls for an end to this full disclosure, until he finds himself revealing the same kind of information to his new pal Sydney. Eventually hanging out for seven-hour stretches with Sydney and bailing on dates with Zooey, Peter must also learn to curb his bro time.

Despite the premise of heterosexual bonding in “I Love You, Man,” it somehow gets caught up and confused throughout most of the movie with homosexual intimacy. Andy Samberg’s character, Robbie, is gay, yet the majority of his boyfriends are formerly straight men—he appears only slightly nonplussed by this fact. Peter’s social advances and friendship with Sydney are often mistaken for homosexuality as well. Whether this is a reflection of common stigmas regarding male friendship or a cheap ploy to garner extra laughs, it quickly becomes redundant.

Good intentions notwithstanding, Sydney ultimately causes a rift in Peter and Zooey’s relationship. Still, even faced with this downturn, Hamburg never drops the comedic ball. The movie’s implicit messages are buoyed by brisk, funny maxims: “Society tells us to act civilized, but the truth is, we’re animals, and sometimes you’ve gotta let it out,” Sydney informs Peter after going berserk on a Venice Beach visitor. The lighthearted mood is sustained by sunny California city views and a playful soundtrack including Vampire Weekend and The Flaming Lips.

Though “I Love You, Man” tests the foundations on which male companionship stands, it does so without losing itself in unnecessarily heavy social commentary, instead managing to maintain a sense of humor—albeit a sophomoric one—throughout.