Apr 20, 2009

I Love You, Man [15]

Dir: John Hamburg
Hooray, it’s the best Hollywood comedy of the year so far. Oh, hang on, it’s not actually very good.

Comedy is in such a low place that I Love You, Man, in which I laughed out loud twice, represents Hollywood’s finest achievement in the genre for some time. This depresses me more than I can say.  That's not only because this film, for all its staggering mediocrity, still manages to look - against a backdrop of recent films like Borat, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Semi-Pro, Step Brothers and more - like a shining beacon of quality, but also because there are enough talented people involved in this film that it really ought to be better.

I’ve always liked Paul Rudd, he’s clearly a decent actor and a solid comedian and from films as good as Clueless to films as jaw-droppingly awful as The Ten he’s been an engaging and amusing presence. Sadly he’s not put to great use here, his role is mainly as the straight man to Jason Segel, and Rudd never really develops a great deal of personality. What with this and Role Models it seems that he’s more suited to being in supporting roles, contributing the odd beautifully timed gag, rather than trying to carry a film himself. He’s not terrible and he’s still got that easy charm that makes him such a watchable actor, but there’s never any great engagement.

Jason Segel, equally, is perfectly fine, but his character isn’t especially well written.  There’s no great consistency to him - sometimes he’s the wild and crazy guy and others he’s entirely normal, and perhaps slightly sad - it’s as if the film can’t quite decide who he is and tries to have its cake and eat it.

The screenplay, by director Hamburg and Larry Levin is so stock that I got the impression that someone had seen an old draft of The Forty Year Old Virgin lying around and changed some names, the big difference being that in this film the lead’s problem isn’t meeting women, it’s meeting men. The Forty Year Old Virgin wasn’t the classic it’s often claimed as, but it did a lot of things right, mostly in the writing of its lead character, who managed to be both recognisably odd, in a way that you believed would create the situation of the title, and yet appealing and interesting enough that you wanted to spend two hours with him. I Love You, Man falls down on this score. First of all Peter (Rudd) is far too functional for you to believe that he has no friends. I’ve known guys that really have no friends, they aren’t successful real estate agents, and they aren’t getting married to women who look like Rashida Jones. Aside from that there’s another problem with the film’s premise, in that I never got the idea that Peter and his brother (Andy Samberg) weren’t close enough that Peter, especially in the absence of any other choice, wouldn’t just ask his brother to be his best man.

In keeping with the over familiar feeling of the film the real problems with it start to bite exactly when you’d expect. The first couple of acts pass by amiably enough. They’re implausible, and almost never laugh out loud funny, but there’s a few gently amusing jokes, enough that I generally kept smiling. The problem, as ever, is act three. To inject a bit of drama the movie has to break up its central couple(s), and I can’t remember the last time this happened in a way that felt honest or unforced. I Love You, Man certainly doesn’t break from that trend, doing it through a mechanism so obvious that a flashing box reading “Plot Device” may as well be passed between the main characters. The whole film proceeds, beat for beat and often joke for joke, exactly as you’d expect, and even if it were funnier that would make I Love You, Man a pretty dull experience.

There are things to enjoy here though. Jon Favreau and Jamie Pressley are pretty funny as a fractious married couple and Rashida Jones, though she has almost no character and almost nothing to do, is pretty charming and very cute, while small roles for JK Simmons and an oddly cast Lou Ferrigno are also fun distractions.

These things aren’t enough though, because the main thrust of the story isn’t believable or interesting, and nor are its characters, but worse there’s really no reason for this to be a movie. Hamburg directs as if he’s filming a sitcom, with a bright, flat, boring style that sits uncomfortably on the cinema screen and few of the performances or jokes serve to disabuse you of the notion that what you’re seeing is a very long, rather average, piece of television that someone blew up the negative for.

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