In the Apatow Age, the non-romantic bonds between men has been the love that dare not speak its name, but now with the unctuous term “bromance,” it’s all out in the open. So in the Hollywood comedy I Love You, Man, what was once an unspoken theme now becomes the requisite high-concept hook about a groom’s search for a best man, and the “man-dates” that entails. And the close friendships that seemed real and organic in comedies like Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin are subject to the stale gimmickry of other rom-coms. What saves I Love You, Man, at least partially, is the relaxed chemistry between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, both very funny men who are genuine enough to push back against a premise that’s often maddeningly artificial.
Delivering his lines just a beat or two late, for maximum awkwardness, Rudd is particularly good as the face of a certain breed of sensitive yet ineffectual man who relates better to women then men. After getting engaged to girlfriend Rashida Jones, Rudd needs to find a best man, so with Jones’ encouragement and bad advice from just about everyone he knows, he embarks on a series of man-dates to fill the part. His forced attempts at friendship don’t go well: He doesn’t fit in with macho beer-swilling types like his future brother-in-law (Jon Favreau), and a dinner date gives another suitor the wrong idea. But Rudd finally meets that special someone in Jason Segel, a committed bachelor slob who draws Rudd a little too far into his world of Rush covers and advanced slackerdom.
Segel has made a career out of playing earnest to the point of comic desperation, but here, he’s like a dopey philosopher of easy living, and it’s funny to watch Rudd circle the drain right along with him. Their fumbling partnership is enough to build a movie around, but co-writer/director John Hamburg—who also scripted Meet The Parents and wrote and directed Along Came Polly—goes for broad laughs. Hamburgian running jokes about Segel refusing to pick up after his dog or Rudd trying to sell Lou Ferrigno’s house may play to the cheap seats, but too often, the random gags trump the character-based humor. When Hamburg and his lead actors are at cross purposes, I Love You, Man loses its way.