After his scene-stealing supporting roles in comedies like Wet Hot American Summer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it was time for Paul Rudd to get his first leading man role in a comedy. That opportunity came in 2008 with Role Models, which kicked off a streak of yukfests headlined by Rudd. After starring in five traditional studio comedies (plus scoring the titular role in the indie film My Idiot Brother), this portion of his career came to a close in 2013. Don’t weep for Rudd, though. The only reason he stopped was that he had to make time for headlining Marvel movies and streaming miniseries.
Rudd had a solid streak in terms of the crucial responses to his mainstream comedies compared to other leading men of his ilk. Of these projects, only Dinner for Schmucks got outright terrible reviews, with the rest getting mixed to outright positive responses. However, it’s no challenge to figure out which of these projects is Rudd’s best. I Love You, Man stands head and shoulders above Rudd’s other comedy leading man vehicles for countless reasons.
Now, this isn’t to say that other films Rudd headlined in this era, like Role Models, were inherently bad. It’s just that I Love You, Man was especially perfect for Rudd’s sensibilities on multiple fronts. For one thing, I Love You, Man allowed Rudd a chance to play an endearing well-meaning goofball, an archetype the actor always excels in. Whereas Dinner for Schmucks had him portraying a self-serving schemer, Man allowed Rudd to play someone who was right up the actor’s skill set.
This comes right down to the basic premise of I Love You, Man, which saw Rudd playing Peter Klaven, a man who’s preparing to get married but has one problem: he has no Best Man. The affable Klaven has never had guy friends. Now, with time running out until his big day, he’s out to make a dude buddy, which eventually leads to an unexpected friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segel). While other R-rated comedies are concerned with sexual exploits or crude matters, I Love You, Man is about a guy just wanting a pal. What an appropriately wholesome starting point for a movie starring a man who takes such immense pleasure out of a harmless prank like showing a Mac & Me clip ad nauseum on Conan’s various talk shows.
This is the rare Paul Rudd vehicle where the movie itself feels as warm-hearted as Rudd’s screen presence. This is especially apparent in how much empathy it has for its characters and not just its protagonist. These include Zooey (Rashida Jones), who, in a departure from most R-rated comedies of this era, isn’t depicted as a one-note nag, but rather a person that truly cares about her significant other and has a life of her own. Rudd isn’t the only thoughtful ingredient in an otherwise abrasive dude-bro comedy, I Love You, Man feels, as a whole, like a chilled-out extension of Rudd’s screen persona.
Best of all, though, is how I Love You, Man offers Rudd a chance to show that he’s got great chemistry with Jason Segel, portraying Sydney Fife. The duo plays off each other nicely in their comedic exchanges with a realistic rapport that makes their budding friendship believable. Certain comedies just pair up two famous comedians because of their notoriety without any consideration on whether or not sparks will fly in their dynamic. Luckily, pairing Rudd with Segel delivers a duo that’s entertaining to watch and ensures there’s some significant star power for the poster.
It also helps that Rudd and Segel are a step up from the other times Rudd got paired up with famous faces in mainstream comedies. In his other star vehicles, Rudd got to play off funny people like Seann William Scott and Steve Carell. However, he was separated from Scott for long stretches of Role Models and he got overwhelmed by Carell’s extreme wackiness in Dinner for Schmucks. With I Love You, Man, Rudd, and Segel get to share the screen and, even with Segel playing someone with a considerably more outgoing personality, he doesn’t get drowned out by his co-star.
Instead, it proves amusing to see Rudd try to keep up with Segel’s endless enthusiasm and man-child antics. Plus, the screenplay by John Hamburg and Larry Levin adds some intriguing nuance to their dynamic that the actors have a great time with. Namely, Fife, despite being the kind of man-child that R-rated comedies from the 2000s idolized, isn’t depicted as an entirely positive influence on Klaven. Armed with this quiet narrative detail, Rudd displays real chops in demonstrating how his character’s new best friend can help him come out of his shell, but also inspire some new bad habits. That’s a level of nuance Rudd handles nicely and that he didn’t get to handle in something like Dinner for Schmucks.
Most importantly, though, I Love You, Man is the funniest of Paul Rudd’s comedy vehicles, perhaps because it’s first and foremost concerned with following its own creative drums. Dinner for Schmucks got too wrapped up in a supporting cast overstuffed with wacky comic figures that wandered away from director Jay Roach’s earlier Austin Powers movies. Rudd’s 2012 star vehicle This is 40, meanwhile, was too beholden to the style of its predecessor Knocked Up. Both features failed to take the time to properly use Rudd or even just deliver good gags.
I Love You, Man isn’t entirely divorced from the influence of other comedies, but it’s got enough originality to provide room for Rudd to breathe rather than have this actor try to mimic the successes of past big-screen yukfests. In even something that’s overall decent like Role Models, detours into conventional storytelling paths felt counterintuitive to the raunchy intent of the proceedings. Meanwhile, in I Love You, Man, the steady stream of relatively original gags even make familiar storytelling staples, like an inevitable break-up and climactic wedding-set makeup between the two leads, digestible.
Both in its own ingredients and in how it utilizes Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man is a splendidly funny comedy, an easygoing endeavor that ensures viewers will never think of “slappin’ the bass” the same way again. It’s also a great example of the sort of chipper everyman that Rudd’s so good at playing. In an era of American comedies dominated by man-children, Rudd offered something a little different, a great contrast to those characters. Those qualities that make him stand out could sometimes get lost in his weaker star vehicles. Thankfully, I Love You, Man exists to provide a showcase for the man’s gifts as well as just make you giggle consistently for 100 minutes.
Get ready to rumble! At home.
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