There is a moment in “I Love You, Man” that epitomizes the affable appeal of Jason Segal when he stands at a house showing and accurately analyzes the inhabitants of the entire room with utter confidence and without passing judgment. His pleasant nature is derived not from his keen surveillance of the individuals, but the way he explains their intentions in such a carefree manner. There is no tension, no disdain for their character flaws, just simple, uncalculated, precise observation.
Although Segal does not have the lead role in “I Love You, Man,” his character, succinctly named Sydney Fife, is certainly more colorful and vibrant than Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd. At the beginning of the film, Peter proposes to his girlfriend (Rashida Jones) and he quickly realizes the dearth of friends at his disposal that might be candidates for the wedding party. Peter overhears his fiance bantering with her friends about the need for him to discover male friends in order to prevent him from clinging to their relationship as his only lifeline, and he decides to take this on as a task of self-discovery.
Peter’s biggest challenge is that he has no idea how to appropriately begin and nourish a blossoming male relationship because of his elementary social skills. He enlists the aid of his brother (Andy Samberg) and father (J.K. Simmons) with humorous results for advice on how to attract males without giving off the feeling that he has ulterior motives. After a series of both hilarious and disturbing “man dates,” Peter finally meets Sydney Fife (Segal), a person who enjoys his company and celebrates his eccentricities, while embracing his social awkwardness as a worthwhile and rewarding challenge.
The film does an excellent service in evaluating the social pitfalls of a growing male relationship, navigating it in a careful, intelligent manner. Men cannot go out to dinner or spend superfluous time together without being thought of as having other, perverse reasons behind their actions.
“I Love You, Man” astutely compares this uneasiness to the lighthearted social spectrum women occupy where intimate conversations with their friends are part of normal, accepted behavior. When men graphically explain the intricacies of their sex lives, they are considered disgusting, while women are seen as sexually exuberant creatures who wish to express their love when they speak of these exact same issues. The film refuses to place blame for this societal double standard, instead choosing to analyze the affect it has on both parties of a loving, healthy compatible sexual relationship.
“I Love You, Man” does not contain the same persistent laughs as “Superbad”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but does include some of the same depth at the core of the characters revealed during the course of the story that affects the audience in an unexpectedly moving fashion. The real delight of the film is watching Rudd and Segel, two gifted comic performers, interact in a manner that makes their characters genuine and unique, even while being caught in a plot that seems extraordinarily familiar. Both actors are dancing a tightrope where monotonous comedy clichs have forever resided, while never seeming trapped by the recognizable storyline. All of the characters, including superior supporting work from Jones, Samberg, and especially Simmons, are played with rich authenticity, providing an elevation for the film above its given material.
The people in “I Love You, Man” are likable enough and the audience wishes happiness for them within and between each other. They do nothing too sinister and are always striving for contentment, even though some of them are at places in their lives where this is an almost impossible request to fulfill. Everyone gets what they deserve and no one is seriously injured, but lessons are learned and feelings confirmed and the audience feels better once they leave the theater, which sounds an awful lot like a successful and amusing comedic endeavor.