In the weeks leading up to the release of I Love You, Man, my heart raced increasingly with excitement at the prospect of seeing it with my buddy Sal. The trailer looked fun, and I heard Rush, one of my top bands, appeared on it. So on March 20, 2009, I donned the T-shirt I bought from Rush’s 2007 Snakes & Arrows tour, met Sal at the Palisades Center, where chowed down on a foot-long tuna sub from Blimpie’s at their food court. From there, we made our way into the film, which was everything I’d hoped for.
Fourteen years later, when my new bro Kevin came down to DC for Bella’s Single at Heart discussion, we talked about I Love You, Man, which made me want to watch it. So after the long drive to DC from New York, where I had spent the holidays, I was feeling worn out, so I popped it in for a light view.
What I wasn’t expecting was how my newfound knowledge of Singles Studies shaped how I view this film, which is a concept in itself: it takes most of the tropes found in a romantic comedy and applies them to the evolution of a platonic male friendship.
Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), the type of uncool but basically decent guy who “gets the girl” in the romantic comedy, has just got engaged to Zoe. He’s happy, but with no problem: he has no male friends, hence nobody to be his best man (I didn’t wonder why he couldn’t ask his brother Robbie, but hey, suspension of disbelief). While making root beer floats for Zoe’s girlfriends at her Ladies’ night, one of her tribe expresses concern that a husband without bros can become clingy and needy. Upon overhearing this, Peter panics: “I’ve gotta find some fucking friends.”
After a montage of disastrous “dates” with other dudes, Peter has what is known in the world of romcoms as a “Meet Cute” with Sydney (Jason Segel). A nice comic thread in the film has Peter, a real estate agent, trying to sell the mansion of Lou Ferrigno (aka The Incredible Hulk). Sydney’s the only person actually eating the free food put out by Peter, which the latter is impressed and flattered by (most people are generally awkward around free chow). Sydney then confesses that he’s not actually interested in the house, but he’s cruising for divorcees so he can hook up with them. Hey, points for honesty, right? And he’s honest with his divorcees, no judgements here.
Essentially, they develop a “bromance,” which follows a good chunk of the beats in the romcom, which I’ll highlight below:
1)In an early scene, Peter brings Zoey to dinner with his family, where they comment on how Peter “has always been a girlfriend guy” and “never had a best friend.” This could be reminiscent of how some cinematic (and real-life) families might discuss concern over that one family member who’s not married yet. The 1955 Best Picture winner, Marty, comes to mind. 2)The following scene has Peter driving to work and looking longingly at pairs and groups of guys bonding. That dinner conversation really stuck in his craw. 3)That montage of man-dates is hilarious, much like those of other protagonists going on bad romantic dates. 4)There is that “dark night of the soul” moment, where Peter and Sydney break up. It’s funny because it resembles so many of those types of romcom breakups, but I was genuinely sad to see them part ways. After this, Peter and Sydney are adrift. 5)Of course, there’s the reconciliation, where Peter and Sydney both tell each other, “I Love You, Man.” Cue goosebumps.
I don’t know that I’d call this a 100% pro-single movie, but it’s not pro-romance. Rather, it is objective and accurate about romance and platonic friendship, being fair to both things. Peter and Zoey do have their “breakup moment,” but it’s short-lived, and they do marry at the end. But (SPOILER ALERT), Zoey calls Sydney (without Peter’s knowledge) to re-invite him to the wedding. “I couldn’t let you get married without your best man,” she says. That’s going to be a healthy marriage for them, and it fits the characters.
Peter undergoes the big change in the movie, becoming more comfortable in his own skin, a quality Sydney has in spades, to an extreme. Sydney doesn’t really change that much, although he does watch Chocolat, perhaps indicating he’s willing to learn things from Peter as well, which is what a healthy friendship is.
Sydney definitely doesn’t “grow up” by “settling down.” Zoey suggests setting him up with her single friend, Haley. A lesser film would have the two of them “hooking up.” When Peter makes this offer, Sydney’s response: “Within five minutes, she was talking about how she wants to get married and have kids.” Haley is the type of single desperate for a relationship; the portrayal isn’t singlist. It is realistic; I know quite a few singletons (of all genders) who have that stance. Needless to say, the date doesn’t work out. Additionally, Zoe's other friend Denise is married to Barry, a classic alpha male who hosts basement parties where he and his guy friends "boat race." Their marriage alternates between loud fighting and loud make-up sex. The movie gets that detail right; some people thrive on that kind of chaos.
During their breakup fight, Peter says, “Your friends are all in relationships, having kids, they’re growing up!” This doesn’t deter or phase Sydney at all; he knows who he is. And while appearing to have no job or prospects throughout the film (he asks Peter for an $8,000 loan for a vague “investment opportunity”), it’s revealed at the end he’s a successful investor. The $8,000 loan was to pay for billboards to market Peter’s real estate practice, which Sydney (correctly) believes Peter wouldn’t have done himself. Sydney also has a house AND a separate garage, which he’s converted to a man cave. On LA’s Venice Beach. If you can afford things there, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. I’ll never have that on my public educator’s salary!
Sydney is what Bella DePaulo would call a “Single at Heart.” As I watched the film, I thought, he fits Peter McGraw’s definition of a “solo,” even if his portrayal is exaggerated. With this knowledge, I have a deeper appreciation of this film than I did fourteen years ago.
By the way, Rush fans, here’s a nice clip of our boys meeting the Holy Trinity. It closed the concerts on the band’s 2011 Time Machine tour, where I saw Geddy Lee “slap that bass.”