"I Love You, Man" is a film that succeeds despite itself. The film's premise seems to have been originated, developed and polished off during a particularly brief and uninspiring elevator pitch. The promotional posters brings to mind the title of Lewis Carroll's poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," or in the case of this film's entirely disposable narrative "The Walrus and the Relatively Successful Real Estate Agent." The film is indifferently shot (though not outright visually vulgar like "Superbad" or "Pineapple Express") and is littered with music cues that could benevolently be called "non-subversive." But the film's greatest detriment lies beyond in the screen, in the introduction of the bilious phrase "bromantic comedy" into mainstream culture (or at least the large swaths of that culture which check Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic on a regular basis).
But despite all of this, and let me emphasis that this is a distinct "despite" not a "because of" or any other sort of fortuitous creative frictions, this is a film worth seeing and even a film worth discussing. The film boasts a solid supporting cast with J.K. Simmons, Thomas Lennon, Andy Samburg, Jane Curtin, a particularly good Jaime Pressly and a particularly bad Jon Favreau (he can't act, he can't write, he can't direct - he can't do it all!) Rising above this ensemble, however, is Paul Rudd.
The character he plays is not particularly complex nor sympathetic nor dynamic nor even that fucking interesting, but I would pay good money to see unedited dailies - timecode and all - of Paul Rudd acting his way into and back out of many a paper bag. It's unfair to call this the performance of a lifetime because Rudd is still relatively early in his career and I haven't seen Role Models (David Wain, 2008), among other Rudd vehicles.* There is also the aforementioned fact that he's playing the straight man in a recurring series of standard-issue comedy scenarios. As a character he is unwritten and paralyzed by romcom tropes, but as a performer he explores these very limits and lounges in their margins. Indeed the writing and directing privilege Rudd to a degree rarely seen in contemporary comedies, allowing him to create comedic beats and anti-wordplay that border on the surreal. There is a wonderfully vertiginous feeling to watching Rudd ramble and stumble far beyond the customary edit point, chasing tangents in ways both emotional and bizarre. In contrast to the increasingly stale (and prevalent) stylings of Michael Cera, you often have no idea how Rudd is going to finish a sentence or if he is even going to attempt such a thing. All of this is in truly surprising contrast to the heinous, fascistic and catchphrase-enforcing posters smothering Los Angeles over the last few months, or as I like to call them "The Four Horseman":
None of these lines are delivered in a particularly noteworthy way (one imagines the promo people skimming an unused draft of the script for brotastic quips), but Rudd manages to both wring out the full awkwardness of "sweet, sweet hanging" and to capture the spontaneous vulnerability of uttering a neologism like "totes magotes." And although Segel never threatens to confront Rudd as a comedic equal, he provides key support for two of the film's best, most deapan jokes. The first involves Paul Rudd's inexplicably exclusive familiarity with the Timothy Dalton (or "T-Dalt") era of the James Bond series. The other, thankfully recurring, gag involves Rudd recounting his days of "slappin tha bass" in a bit of vocal mispronunciation far removed from something like the foreign-man shenanigans of Borat. Lubitsch this is not. But at its best, this is modern studio comedy at its (nearly) best.
*Since beginning this review many months ago I have, in fact, seen Role Models. Rudd is good in it, but not this good.