Friday, March 13, 2009

"Anwar Sadat" - Jon Hamburg's I LOVE YOU, MAN

I’d like to think that I’m getting past my “guy” stage. I’m sure others will disagree, but while I enjoy hanging out with friends just as much as the others do, I’ve been seeing that this extended adolescence isn’t really doing me much good. There are certain parts of living that I no longer have an interest in that I used to, while others that once seemed alien to me are becoming more appealing. I’m not sure if this is what you would call “growing up”, but the idea of doing things that my parents did when I was young has become more interesting to me (except for playing Bridge), while all those things that have I’ve been doing since graduating high school are becoming passé. I explain all this to you not because I see HQ 10 as an online therapy session, but rather to explain my reaction to Jon Hamburg’s I LOVE YOU, MAN, which opens the SXSW Film Festival tonight before opening nationwide next week. This is a movie about Guydom, about being a dude and hanging out with other dudes away from the wives, girlfriends and kids. Certainly there are a lot of “guy” movies out there these days, and perhaps they do represent a new shift in American culture away from what the definition of a man was over the last, say, 50 years, away from the post-WWII Playboy era that gave us the likes of Lenny Bruce and Lee Marvin, to the post-Iraq (or soon-to-be post Iraq) Maxim era that brings us Vince Vaughn wannabes. Manliness isn’t quite what it once was and may never quite be that way again, replaced by a new dudeness that says it’s OK to keep playing video games and jamming with friends well into your 30s or 40s. I can’t criticize I LOVE YOU, MAN for presenting this situation as-is, because I know it’s not too far from reality, but I can’t really like it too much because I’m a bit sick of it in reality and wish to move off from it, personally. This may sound like the words of a lifeless killjoy, but I don’t care. Maturity sometimes has its advantages.

This is all a bit of a shame to me, because I LOVE YOU, MAN has a solid idea for a comedy, the search for male bonding and a best friend when well into adulthood. This is something that a lot more guys go through than they will probably admit, and I LOVE YOU, MAN is not wrong in portraying all this as a “Bromance”, because it can be like that. It gets some of these moments right, and it shows the awkwardness that goes with it in a manner that I can relate to. But what it doesn’t get right, and what eventually disinterested me in the film, was in how it disintegrates into a movie-version world of relationships between men of my age. Sure, I understand that I LOVE YOU, MAN is a comedy, but a backward celebration into juvenile behavior that treads on a lot of familiar ground for these kinds of pictures. It wants to be the kind of comedy that ruled in the late 70s and early 80s, with an SNL sensibility, some raucous humor and a bit of heart, but there’s nothing new here that suggests anything other than a collection of gags. It’s interesting to see Jon Favreau pop up in a supporting role, since he was the one who practically invented this genre with SWINGERS back in ’96, and the freshness that I felt for that back then is long gone here. I LOVE YOU, MAN is predictable in its plotting and situations and doesn’t really do anything with its premise, nor does it really care to say anything about this. If you look at pictures like THE ODD COUPLE, or even THE CABLE GUY, which was a silly comedy and also a dark, sometimes powerful, statement on loneliness and the attempt to make friends when you don’t possess the right social skills, you’ll know that it can be done right and done smart. I LOVE YOU, MAN is not smart enough.

And now for the confession: I did laugh quite a bit at I LOVE YOU, MAN. The film is well performed by total pros who are very good at what they do and sell a lot of this material better than it has a right to be, so a lot of the jokes hit their mark than should. There was even one gag (about a puggle named after a late world leader) that had me laughing for several minutes straight. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are both funny guys and they have a good rapport in the film and make it a lot more tolerable than I would have expected it to be otherwise. The film is loaded with talented people – Jamie Pressly, J.K. Simmons, Andy Samburg, Thomas Lennon, and the lovely Rashida Jones – and they all help make it better than the material really is. I also couldn’t help but enjoy the film’s unabashed love and support of the band Rush (who are even in the fucking thing!), which is actually one of the few things that sets the film apart, since there are not of other movies out there that praises this much-underrated band (yes, I’m a fan). It’s certainly a watchable movie, and I won’t deny that I laughed while I watched it, but when it was all over I realized I didn’t like it very much. It’s too easy, too conventional, and too mired in its own cleverness to realize that it isn’t the picture it should be. It’s funny, I’ll admit to that. But it’s also quite unremarkable and stilted of any growth, and I couldn’t get behind it. I guess I’m getting old.

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