More than once I’ve casually known — or even just known of — people (friends of friends, usually) who have made me think “That’s someone I need to be friends with.” Usually it’s a realization that we have similar interests, sometimes it’s a touch of envy because that person is already doing something I want to be doing, and sometimes it’s just that the potential friend has that particular charisma that gives them a measure of indefinable “cool.” Rarely, however, do I act on that impulse…because walking up to someone I know barely or not at all and saying “Hey, you cool person, you…I want to be your friend” is a damn hard thing to do.
And I Love You, Man gets that difficulty exactly right. In some ways making friends is more difficult than dating: at least with dating, the asked-out has a pretty clear guess what the asker-out wants. But while it seems like it shouldn’t be so, saying to someone “I want to be friends with you” turns out to be far more awkward than asking for a date. (I’ll admit to the possibility that maybe this is just me, and other people have no problem whatsoever doing so…but I suspect it’s not I’m not alone.)
I Love You, Man (2009)
(out of a possible five)
Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) asks his girlfriend Zooey (Rashisa Jones) to marry him and realizes shortly after that he has no one to be his best man at the wedding — or, more technically, realizes that he has no male friends close enough to deserve the honor of being his best man — and no one he thinks would accept, anyway. Even his father (the always wonderful J.K. Simmons) and brother (Andy Samberg) are far closer to each other than they are to him. Peter has one of those ideas that only ever occurs in movies and sets out to meet new guy friends, hoping one will click well enough for that person to be his best man. He finds a likely candidate in Sidney Fife (Jason Segel) who, in fine buddy comedy tradition, represents Peter’s polar opposite: relaxed and confident where Peter is neurotic and unsure, easily likable where Peter is reserved. (Not so coincidentally, Sidney shares his surname with one of the most legendary best friends in the pop culture canon.)
But here’s the thing: I said this setup follows in “fine buddy comedy tradition,” but it doesn’t follow those footsteps too closely. Because while most comedies of this sort would have Sidney turn out to be in some way wrong for Peter, that’s not the case with I Love You, Man. Writer/director John Hamburg gets it: Sidney actually is a really good guy. As is Peter. There’s one scene which seems to be setting us up for a big twist in the nature of the relationship between Peter and Sidney, but that twist never comes. Both characters — as well as both actors playing them — are completely likable. We want these guys to be friends because we want to be friends with both of them.
Also, a more traditional (read: lazier and dumber) comedy would have made Zooey out to be a nagging shrew, and Sidney would have shown Peter the light in realizing why he shouldn’t marry her. That’s not the case here: Zooey remains loving, caring and sympathetic throughout, even during the expected late-movie problems between her and Peter. That’s one of the beauties of the movie: all of the main characters only want what’s best for the people they care about. Sidney wants Peter to marry Zooey. Zooey wants Peter to have a good male friend, even if she’s a bit jealous when it actually happens. Peter wants to have both of these people in his life, difficult as becomes to balance the two.
I Love You, Man follows solidly in the recent Apatowian tradition (though Judd Apatow himself has nothing to do with the movie): it never makes fun of its characters. It doesn’t ask you to laugh at Peter either for not having any real male friends or for wanting them; we can laugh at how he goes about trying to find them and the results of the search, but not at Peter for the desire itself. The movie’s humor comes from the interactions between the characters, not from any inherent ridiculousness of the situation. I Love You, Man lets these characters and the relationship between them stay real, and we care about them far more than we might have expected as a result.