When Forgetting Sarah Marshall was released, I was shocked that a silly premise didn't lead to sloppy storytelling. These days, most Hollywood films employ the ego and stupidity factor to such lengths that emotional wackiness is the norm on the big screen. For one, friends and loved ones will make a lead feel bad to promote reflection in a story. (The Devil Wears Prada is a good example of this -- when Andy overworks, her friends berate her choice and offer no understanding, only condemnation.) But if there is nothing to chastise, scripts grab overreaction and turmoil and bathe in it -- a misunderstanding becomes a mountain of drama, a cliche or stereotype gets thrown in to amp up tension.
Dramatic twists are so tenuous that, as a moviegoing public, we have to rely on certain assumptions: Someone will do something really stupid. Someone will overreact. Egos will get in the way. Some realization will miraculously make things change. And of course, relationships are only solid so long as the script warrants it -- when drama is needed, that family tie, friendship, or romance will fall like a house of cards.
I took all of those assumptions into I Love You, Man, and missed on every one.
Rather than seeing a blossoming relationship (Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones) and friendship (Rudd and Segel) tainted by mistrust and ulterior motives, I Love You, Man offers a taste of solid connection. Like any good comedic romance, the relationships need to be challenged by twists and bumps in the road, but they aren't the typical, surface-deep quarrels; they are disagreements you can relate to.
I won't outline what they are here, because the beauty of these moments come in the expectation and revelation. But I can say that I've never seen a more likable, engaging, and still honest treatment of relationships. Each has its disagreements, but they're handled with class, and in a way that stays true to the emotions they present. If a pair say they love each other, that's what's shown -- love. Not distrust and drama. Mistakes do not become the defining aspects of a character, and no one is itching to say adios for one slight indiscretion or disagreement.
Tensions pop up, but always for a rather understandable reason, rather than a sensational assumption or miscommunication -- which makes it shocking that this film came from the pen of John Hamburg (along with story creator Larry Levin). His first big film was a comedy that preyed on assumptions and overreaction -- Meet the Parents.
It's nice to have a taste of fantasy and whimsy in film -- we need a safe and enjoyable retreat just as much as we need to feed our artistic urges. But somehow Hollywood confused that with the desire for over-the-top and tenuous interpersonal mayhem. If I Love You, Man is anything, it's the proof that you can laugh and be taken for a cinematic ride without all those crutches the industry has come to love.
If we can get more films like this, I can't help but think that we'd all be better off. Moviegoing would be a little less cynical. Characters would become increasingly more engaging. And kids could learn that not all grownups are hot-headed spazzes.