It's a guy thing

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel get bromantic in I Love You, Man.

Paul Rudd and Jason Segel get bromantic in I Love You, Man

Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd, left) befriends Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) while searching for a best man for his wedding in the comedy I Love You, Man.

I’ve devoted countless hours to my friendships with guys, attending hundreds of hockey games (yo Bill, thanks again for the tix to that Leafs playoff game in ’93), soccer matches, sports memorabilia shows, movies, concerts, even Beatle fan conventions. We’ve discussed the minutiae of Elvis Costello’s lyrics, the merits of Swiss Chalet sauce and whether artificial turf is killing pro sports — you know, the important issues. But there’s one thing that never, ever, gets discussed: the friendship itself.

With your buds, you never really stop to ask, "Where is this going?" That’s the beauty: you don’t have to analyze it. If one of these guys ever asked me where I saw the friendship in 20 years, I’d probably cough up my quarter chicken dinner and say, "Precisely in the same place it’s been for the past 20 years: just hanging out in arenas, multiplexes and mid-priced restaurants."

Guy friendships typically exist in a state of unexamined bliss, which is why I was looking forward to the new comedy I Love You, Man. The rituals of male bonding are ripe for parody, and the premise has potential. The most excellent Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a buttoned-down real estate agent who has to scramble to find a best man after getting engaged. Klaven has always been a "girl friend guy," channelling all his social energy into romantic relationships. Now, at this crucial moment, he has no male friends to stand with him.

In order to find his top groomsman, Klaven embarks on a series of unsuccessful "man dates" with some dubious candidates: a rage-aholic soccer fan, an octogenarian and a guy who turns out to be gay (and wants more than just platonic hang time). Enter Sydney Fife (Judd Apatow ensemble member Jason Segel), who plays the unleashed id to Klaven’s anal-retentive bore. The two "meet cute" over the sandwich tray at an open house, where Fife displays his impressive knowledge of the art of covert flatulence. Klaven is drawn to this rarefied expertise and the two quickly become BFFs.

Fife is an unkempt straight shooter, a spiritual brother of Jeff Bridges’ "The Dude" character in The Big Lebowski. The dynamic between the fey neat freak and the hedonistic slob also brings to mind The Odd Couple, except these guys actually get along. Klaven starts spending a lot of time in his new pal’s "man-cave," a garage behind Fife’s house that’s been transformed into a sanctuary for extended male adolescence, complete with big-screen TV, DVD player, porn stash and assorted rock instruments for jamming purposes. Pretty soon, the two thirtysomethings have reverted to their high school selves and the friendship has become all encompassing — a major concern for Klaven’s fiancée, Zooey (played by The Office’s Rashida Jones).

Just like an on-screen romance, a good bromance depends on the chemistry between the two leads. It pains me to say this, but the comic sparks just aren’t there in I Love You, Man. Rudd and Segel simply aren’t believable as best friends. Klaven is so devastatingly awkward, it’s hard to believe Zooey or Fife would have anything to do with him. Klaven’s hopeless attempts to coin cool slang phrases — "totally" morphs into "totes magotes" — are funny the first two or three times, but not when we get into the double digits.

Klaven, his new friend Sydney and Klaven's fiance, Zooey (Rashida Jones, right) hit the links in I Love You, Man. ((Scott Garfield/DreamWorks))

Rudd is funnier when he plays a confident wise-ass, as he did in the sublime Role Models (2008). That film also featured a much more convincing central male friendship, based almost entirely on a shared love of scatological references (hey, whatever works). In I Love You, Man, Rudd’s insecure, Chocolat-loving character falls flat, a rare misfire for him. Segel has moderate success, but the testosterone-heavy shtick also gets tired, especially when Fife encourages Klaven to get in touch with his inner male by screaming out loud (yep, there’s a lot of screaming here).

A storyline featuring Toronto rock gods Rush (the ultimate guy’s band) provides some solid satire of male music obsession, especially when Klaven and Fife attend a concert by the hoser icons and play all-too-convincing air guitar on Limelight. Another real-life ’70s celeb, Lou Ferrigno (a.k.a. TV’s Incredible Hulk), doesn’t fare as well; a subplot where Klaven tries to unload his mansion becomes a leaden weight on the proceedings.

Rudd and Segel are usually quite likeable, but they’re saddled with a script that only skims the surface. In a couple of scenes where the guys struggle to show their mutual affection, writer/director John Hamburg raises some interesting questions about hetero male behaviour. But he never really pursues the answers. On one hand, the script has a fairly progressive veneer: Klaven has a gay brother named Robbie (Andy Samberg, in a too-small role) who patiently advises him in his quest. But when Klaven compulsively brushes his teeth after being kissed on one of those ill-fated man-dates, the film veers into the homophobic terrain of many teen comedies.

I Love You, Man is part of a mini-trend — the vast yet mysterious world of straight guy bonding is having a moment. Included in that is MTV’s reality show Bromance (spoiled Malibu kid Brody Jenner tries to find the supreme "bro") and the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which gave us the "Bro Code," a tongue-in-cheek guide to etiquette for horn-dog dudes.

Mostly due to Rudd’s presence, I had high hopes that I Love You, Man would provide both laughs and some minor insight into male friendship. You’d probably learn more about guy interaction by reading a Nick Hornby novel or checking out that scene in Superbad where Seth (Jonah Hill) declares his love for Evan (Michael Cera). That single moment was funny and awkward and said more about the mundane joys of male hang time than all 105 minutes of I Love You, Man.

I Love You, Man opens March 20.

Greig Dymond writes about the arts for CBCNews.ca.