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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


We all know a guy just like Peter Klaven. He's the sort of man who has spent much more time nurturing his female friendships than his male ones. When women want to drink beer and watch sports, we call them "guy's girls" and talk about how cool they are. When men want to hang around with women, we think they are odd and question their sexuality. After all, guys are supposed to use power tools and play poker and belch and fart. They are not supposed to watch The Devil Wears Prada and make root beer floats.

In I Love You, Man, Peter (Paul Rudd) has just become engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones). As they plan their wedding, he realizes that he has no male friends close enough to serve as his best man. The wedding will therefore be lopsided, as Zooey has several close friends who don't want to walk down the aisle unaccompanied. For help, Peter turns to his gay brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), under the impression that a gay man would know how to attract other men. Robbie helps fix Peter up on a few "man dates" that go disastrously wrong.

Luck changes when Peter, a real estate agent trying to sell the home of former "Hulk" star Lou Ferrigno, holds an open house. One of the attendees is Sydney Fife (Jason Segal), an investor who shows up at such events to take advantage of the free food. He also hopes to pick up recently divorced women. Sydney is a walking id who seems to ooze guy-ness. His friends have all taken on increased responsibility (you know…wives and kids and jobs and stuff like that), while he clings to immaturity. It's no wonder Peter is drawn to him. Over the course of their developing friendship, the uptight Peter learns to cut loose and embrace his masculinity. However, Zooey eventually becomes bothered by the attention her fiancée starts paying to his new friend.

I really wanted to write this review without using the word "bromance" but it's kind of hard not to. The concept has become popular in our culture; people are finally acknowledging that men can have their own unique kind of closeness. Women may gather in groups to drink Cosmopolitans and go see He's Just Not That Into You, but men can bond just as strongly by jamming out to Rush and joking about masturbation (both of which Peter and Sydney do). I Love You, Man is the first comedy I can recall to specifically be about the bromance. Other pictures have dealt with the subject without calling attention to it. This one explicitly acknowledges that men emotionally need the company of other men.

There are two reasons why I Love You, Man works. First, it's incredibly funny. Paul Rudd and Jason Segal are both part of that Judd Apatow repertoire of players, so they have worked together before and understand one another's rhythms. Some of the scenes - such as one where Sydney forces Peter to yell in a gesture of manliness - could come off as forced in other hands, yet the actors bring a comic sincerity to it. They also find humor in the dynamic between the repressed Peter and the free-wheeling Sydney. There is additionally a lot of solid supporting work from actors such as Samberg, J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtain (as Peter's parents), Jon Favreau and Jamie Pressly (as Zooey's friends), Thomas Lennon (as a bad man date), and, yes, Lou Ferrigno. On a laughs-per-minute ratio, I Love You, Man scores pretty high.

The other reason the picture works is that it takes the time to create genuine, identifiable characters. Peter and Sydney are not idiots; they are smart people, and their needs are legitimate. Zooey is not the predictable shrew, either. In fact, until things cross a line, she is very supportive of her soon-to-be husband making friends. Sure, there are a couple of grossout moments, some sex jokes, and a few instances of outrageousness, but the heart of the story is in its depiction of male bonding. We laugh mostly because we feel for these characters and we understand their plight. Director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) definitely sets the story in the real world, with the characters saying and doing things that real people would actually say and do. About three-quarters of the way through, a plot development is introduced that I feared would take the movie down the wrong road. I worried that it would create some artificial conflict between the two leads. Thankfully, the story doesn't go where I feared it would. Instead, we get an outcome that is perfectly in keeping with the characters' personalities.

I Love You, Man is very observant about male friendship, about the need for guys to occasionally exhibit their manly nature in front of one another. The movie finds humor in that idea, yet never makes fun of it. I hesitate to call the film "touching" because that's kind of the antithesis of R-rated humor. So instead I will say that I Love You, Man locates comedy in the truth, and I laughed consistently.

( 1/2 out of four)

I Love You, Man is rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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