I Love You, Man is not a Judd Apatow film, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. He did not direct or produce it. As far as I can tell, he has no credit on the film whatsoever. Yet this is exactly the type of movie Apatow would make, starring two of the prominent members of his acting coterie, Jason Segel and Paul Rudd, and featuring several of his frequent supporters. It has a clasically Apatovian script, raunchy and quotable with some bits that are clearly improvised. And an almost-too-sincere arc about the emotional growth of two emotionally stunted men at the heart of the story.
The pitch: What if a romcom, but about dudes’ platonic friendship? It is not at all a unique premise; Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to “bromantic comedy” with a couple dozen examples of this remixed genre. Uncoincidentally, the majority of the films cited came out during the peak of Apatow’s reign, from 2004-2009; the filthy-but-sweet comic mode prevalent at the time lends itself perfectly to this kind of story. But of all the so-called bromantic comedies, none lean into the mirrored-romcom premise as hard as I Love You, Man does.
The film opens where the typical romcom would end. Peter (Rudd) proposes to his sweetheart Zooey (Rashida Jones) and they share the happy news with their loved ones. The problem is that Peter has always been a “girlfriend guy” — a very real archetype, in my experience: A man who is perennially in a relationship and finds all of his social needs met by his lady and her circle. But Peter needs a best man for his wedding, so he’s on the hunt for a best friend. (Why it didn’t default to his one brother, I’m not 100% sure… Every groom I’ve ever known with just one brother has made him best man.)
Peter, a successful realtor for celebrity mega-homes (in this case, Lou Ferrigno, who makes a cameo) meets Sydney (Segel) at an open house. Sydney is the polar opposite of Peter, a slacker who has one-night stands and hangs with the bros in his man-cave. (I’m not sure this film introduced the phrase, or even popularized it, but I definitely started hearing “man-cave” far more often after this movie than before it.)
Peter and Sydney then undergo a typical romcom, with the requisite honeymoon period, gradual deepening of relationship, and short-lived breakup before a happily ever after. The pairing also features that omnipresent 2000s romcom trope: the uptight career-focused one vs. the laid back fun-times one, both of whom need to ultimately meet in the middle.
The film is oddly earnest; it is much more devoted to its bromcom premise than it is to telling jokes. It’s certainly a comedy, but more of the laughs come from the characters’ reaction shots, physical gags, and adlibbed bits than actual punchlines. The comic tone wobbles a little bit. There are a few broader gags that feel elevated from the story the rest of the film is telling (projectile vomiting; a fight scene with Ferrigno; a silly billboard gag; etc.).
Rudd is pretty much perfect as the uptight Peter. The film’s biggest laughs come from Rudd trying to figure out how to hang loose: extended, improvised shots of Rudd making up dumb nicknames like “Jobin” and coming in for awkward high-fives. Segel feels oddly off-brand, here — typically, he’s the geeky, girlfriendy, emotionally-intense one (see: Forgetting Sarah Marshall and How I Met Your Mother) rather than the laid back bro. But I still find him a delightful comic presence, and he has many funny scenes.
The supporting cast is fun, too. Jones is not typically a favorite of mine, but she executes the role of loving but skeptical fiancee very well. Jon Favreau has a hysterical turn as the grumpy husband of one of Zooey’s friends. Andy Samberg, JK Simmons, Sarah Burns, and a ton of other comedians all chip in with strong small parts.
The biggest problem with I Love You, Man is that it’s not quite funny enough to be worth coming back to the way that the best of its Apatovian kin are. But it has an affectionate heart, a thoughtful take on the challenges of finding adult friends, and a terrific cast. All that’s enough to earn it a gentle recommendation.