Sunday, August 14, 2011

Save Your Money, The Best Of I Love You, Man Is In The Previews!

The Good: One or two good jokes, Sweet, Gay positive
The Bad: Repetitive humor, Light on character, Average-at-best acting, Entirely predictable.
The Basics: When Peter plans on marrying Zooey, he goes through a disastrous process of man-dates to find a best man in the surprisingly un-funny I Love You, Man.

[Note: I originally wrote and published this review in advance of the film. My wife and I rewatched the film last weekend and I found it still held up. Enjoy! - W.L. Swarts]

Ostensibly the point of early screenings that I take part in is to build word of mouth buzz for new movies. The advantage to being a reviewer is that when a film is good, I might be part of the buzz to help build the lines and sell tickets. And when a film is lousy, I can help people in these tough times save their hard-earned cash and devote their time to better causes. I am sure that if I had any real effect on the market at large, I would be a bane to several of the major studios. Tonight, I would no doubt earn the ire of Paramount for putting the bottomline on I Love You, Man first:

Save your money: all of the best lines and moments in this film were in the preview. If you saw the preview, you've seen the best clips and, sadly, there is not much substance beyond what was in the previews in the actual film. But more than that, this is a movie not worth purchasing or renting the DVD when it is eventually released in that medium. No doubt, even with it being rated R for language, there will be a more extreme DVD version with even more swearing, but this is a flick that can safely be left behind until it shows up on network television. It is seriously that un-funny and predictable and utterly average at its best moments.

Peter is an orderly, decent real estate agent who has just proposed to Zooey, and they plan to be married in Santa Barbara. Peter has a big real estate deal that he is planning, hinged upon selling the mansion of Lou Ferrigno. As they begin preparations for their wedding, Zooey quickly narrows down who she might have as her maid of honor, but Peter realizes his best friend is probably his mother and he begins to search for a male friend who might stand beside him as his best man.

What follows is a series of man-dates that put Peter with freaks, manly men drastically unlike him and gay men who misinterpret his desire for friendship as a romantic advance. While showing the Ferrigno Estate, Peter meets Sydney Fife, a free-spirited investor who shows up to pick up women and eat the good food Peter provided. Despite being exact opposites, Peter and Sydney hit it off and begin spending more and more time together. As the wedding nears, Zooey begins to feel threatened by Sydney's new place in Peter's life and Peter must decide which of the people he loves he truly wants in his life.

Set in Hollywood, I Love You, Man is arguably a one-line concept that plays out like exactly what it is. Peter goes on man-dates and that comes to jeopardize his relationship with Zooey. The basic concept of a man with no male friends trying to get some by essentially going on dates is a simple concept and that it threatens his relationship with his fiance is possibly the most obvious potential consequence of such a move. So from the outset, I Love You, Man is conceptually weak. The idea is simple and the plot and character direction is pretty obvious.

At least as insulting to the audience looking for anything even remotely new is that the Peter/Sydney relationship is treated as an "opposites attract" type scenario. In other words, the film trades on the concept that audiences will be wowed by the idea that instead of a movie where a fiance is cheated on by her man with another woman - the "meeting the love of your life after you're engaged" scenario - this movie has a man filling that role. The problem is, outside that, the film does nothing truly unique or even interesting. Outside the switch in gender, this is a romantic comedy that follows along the most formulaic lines.

I Love You, Man is a movie startlingly lacking in humor. One knows one has become jaded in the process of reviewing movies when one goes into a comedy and keeps a tally of how many times they laugh. For the record, I Love You, Man had twenty laughs and twenty-two moments that made me smile. Out of a movie that is over an hour and a half long, this is not an especially good record. And, for the record, only one of the laughs was something that was not in the trailer (a pretty hilarious phone conversation between Peter and Lou Ferrigno at work that Sydney walks in on). As well, a few things that were amusing only garnered smiles . . . because I saw the joke in the trailer.

What the film does have given that it does not have an excess of humor is charm. The moments between Peter and Zooey are rightfully charming and fun to watch. Peter is a sweet guy and clearly very loving of Zooey, so one empathizes predictably with Peter when he overhears Zooey talking with her girlfriends about the upcoming wedding and her anxieties about Peter's lack of male friends. Unfortunately, most of that charm is so predictable, obvious and choreographed that it makes it difficult for the seasoned movie viewer to enjoy it. The viewer understands that Peter will have different, but equally genuine, relationships with Zooey and Sydney and this movie carries that with a remarkably predictable sense of schmaltz to it. It is just a little corny, made more so by how predictable it is.

And ultimately, I Love You, Man has a lot of crude "guy" humor. So, there are several fart jokes, beer-drinking humor and vomit gags that are not terribly funny and end up making the movie into something with even less potential than the predictable plot and character arcs established it as. Worse than that, so much of the movie repeats itself as far as the humor goes. Starting with a phone conversation that involves a number of mildly explicit sex jokes, the movie drifts into an office scene with Peter where a co-worker subjects him to a Youtube video that involves several sex jokes.

What character elements might have existed tend to be compromised in favor of a ridiculous plot. Peter is very white bread, so of course Sydney is a free spirit whom he is able to be completely honest with. Peter and Zooey withhold truths from one another and there is only a fair amount of on-screen chemistry with them. There is a pretty decent sense of chemistry between Peter and Sydney, but it largely seems to go the one way, with Peter simply becoming more like Sydney throughout the film. At least the film is pretty gay-positive (Peter's brother is gay).

Rashida Jones plays Zooey and given that my experiences with her acting before this comes largely from Boston Public, it is nice to see her given a role that is easily within her capacity, but is more than she has been used at on other works. Unfortunately, Jason Segel, who plays Sydney, is much more a function of good casting than good acting. Director John Hamburg utilizes Segel in virtually the same way that everyone else uses Segel. As a result, there is little differentiation in mannerisms between Segel's performance in Freaks & Geeks (reviewed here!) and How I Met Your Mother and his role here as Peter.

To the best of my knowledge, this was my first experience with Paul Rudd, the lead of I Love You, Man. Rudd slouches through the movie with a limited appeal and body language that reminded me of much of Ben Affleck's early works. In other words, Rudd's acting as the tight guy who slowly begins to unwind under his friend's guidance is as average and blase as the role itself is. In other words, Rudd's performance is not going to get people out of their houses in anticipation of his mastery of the craft.

Then again, I Love You, Man leaves the viewer with far too few reasons to get out of their houses and go to the theaters to check this flick out.

For other works with Paul Rudd, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Year One
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Forgetting Sarah Marshall


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permisison.

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