Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Love You, Man: A Review

I Love You, Man is making a big splash, with publicity galore, $6.4 million in profits in its first week and hundreds of reviews, including a three-and-a-half star rating by Roger Ebert.

Almost everything that might be said of the movie has probably already been said, and the Roger Ebert review pretty much hits the nail on the head in my view, but I had a take on the film that I have not seen anybody else mention yet, so allow me to sound off here.

I wandered into a matinee yesterday and immediately had second thoughts. The theater was full of loud boistrous 25-35 year olds, either in couples, or in gaggles of hooting and hollaring females out to party party. If this were not Berkeley, I might have walked out, hyperconscious of my fish-out-of-water status as a 69-year old gay man.

I Love You, Man is a male-bonding flick and a romantic comedy about two people in their late 20s about to marry for the first time. Zooey’s girlfriends worry she is marrying a man without male friends and that could spell trouble later on. He could get all clingy or something. Peter overhears this conversation and sets about finding himself a buddy. He then would not be embarrassed at having nobody to be his best man.

You see how I felt I had crashed a private party. I’m not young. I’m not into the projectile-vomiting kind of humor of straight male bonding movies. I don’t spend a lot of time wondering why one asks somebody to marry him or her.

But I left the theater with a smile on my face. I had, in fact, laughed my head off. I think there were even times when I got jokes the young people missed, and mine were the loudest guffaws. It’s a very warm and often hilarious comedy.

Watching a straight romantic comedy has sometimes felt kind of like attending Christmas mass as a Jew. Watching straight male-bonding movies has involved waiting in dread for the inevitable exclamation of disgust when one or the other of the characters does something that might mark them as “gay.”

I Love You, Man’s success is appropriately attributed to the two main characters. Paul Rudd is brilliant and vulnerable. There’s no way not to fall in love with him, no matter who you are. Jason Segal is brilliant and even Roger Ebert wants him for his best friend. Together they are way more than the sum of their parts on the screen. But without diminishing their contribution, I think the real secret to the film’s success has to be in the magic touch of its scriptwriter and director, producer, editor and others involved in making a feel-good movie which invites in all people who love love. Gays not excluded.

Peter’s brother is gay and their father gets in a great line when Peter brings Zooey home to dinner and explains that he is looking for a best friend. “Who’s your best friend, Dad?” he asks him. “Your brother,” his father answers.

In his search for a buddy Peter goes on “man-dates.” Robbie, the gay brother, gives him lessons. “No candlelight dinners,” he tells him. “No movies like The Devil Wears Prada.” “I LOVED The Devil Wears Prada,” Peter says. Wrong response.

What you have in the main character, Peter, is the kind of straight man gay people mistake for gay, women believe is too good to be true, and a straight man like Sydney, the guy who ultimately fills the role as best friend, thinks he needs to teach how to be a man. In time Sydney realizes there is probably more learning going on in the other direction.

Increasingly gay characters show up as just part of the scene in Hollywood and TV dramas, so perhaps the gay-friendliness of I Love You, Man is no longer remarkable. Perhaps I’m just showing my age and too much direct exposure to the Mormon and Catholic homophobia that has set back gay rights in California, but it sure felt good to be able to cheer without reservation for the straight guy and want him to get his girl. And to watch two heterosexual men get close and have no fear they might do so at your expense.

Actually there was a gay misunderstanding joke thrown in. When Peter is man-dating one troll after another before finding a buddy he can relate to, a scene every gay man who has ever gone cruising will find achingly familiar, he meets a gay man who somehow doesn’t get the message this is a straight man-date. After the date, he plants a wet kiss on Peter. Peter rejects him with a complete absence of disgust, although there are jokes when he goes home and kisses Zooey, who tells him to wash the cigarette taste out of his mouth. She is totally cool when he tells her how it got there. Just get rid of it, she tells him. The gay man later sees Peter with Sydney, thinks they are a couple, and calls him a whore. And the joke repeats. Until the end, when you see him as a guest at the wedding, with all the misunderstanding obviously worked out. It’s that touch which sets the tone and allows the humor to flood through. If one were to hesitate over the humor, one might be put off at the gross jokes and the silly formulaic plotline and the wretchedly drawn out and predictable finish.

But there are no barriers to laughing out loud and feeling good in this movie.

It’s a total winner.

Paul Rudd as Peter Klaven
Jason Segal as Sydney Fife
Rashida Jones as Zooey
Andy Samberg as brother Robbie
J. K. Simmons as Oz, Peter’s dad
Jane Curtin as Joyce, Peter’s mom
Jon Favreau as Barry, Peter’s absolute opposite, the straight man from hell

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