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I Love You, Man (review)

Conform, Man, Conform

This is gonna sound weird coming from me, the inveterate hater of grossout comedies, but there’s not enough grossout in I Love You, Man. Oh, with one instance of projectile vomiting and a running joke about dog shit, it’s more than my recommended daily allowance of kindergarten humor. But the dude looking for a good grossout will be disappointed.
On the other hand, that male contingent of the moviegoing crowd that has been waiting for the film that tries to push and prod guys to conform to a narrow, cardboard stereotype of modern masculinity in the same way that Hollywood has been trying to mold women into materialistic Barbie dolls in recent years will delight in I Love You, Man, which posits that sweet, kind, considerate, friendly, smart, handsome, successful Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd: Role Models, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) just ain’t man enough. It’s not that he’s gay — his fiancée, Zooey (Rashida Jones: Little Black Book, Full Frontal) brags to her gal pals about what a stud he is, so that’s not it. It’s that he’s a gentleman in a world that no longer recognizes such a state of sophisticated, grownup masculinity.

Not that the movie acknowledges that. Nope: Peter really is, to the mind of writer (with Larry Levin) and director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), not a proper specimen of modern manhood because he’s not a crude, loud, obnoxious, rude, overgrown frat boy into his 30s. So it sets him up with a series of encounters in an attempt to man him up and make sure he has a proper best man by his wedding day. (Why one of his many female friends couldn’t serve as best “man” isn’t even broached, because, of course, such an instance of nonconformity could not stand in this sadly confined universe.) And so he is teamed up with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up), a six-foot-something child who says things like “Society tells us [men] to act civilized, but the truth is we’re animals” and disparages Peter when he’s not behaving in an appropriately dude-ish way to “remove your tampon.”

There is nothing wrong with Peter, of course, except in the warped world of I Love You, Man, and it’s especially sad to see Rudd — who, if he isn’t a Peter Klaven in real life, has staked out this niche for himself onscreen — not allowed to portray this sweet, sexy persona as fully human, instead of somehow lacking. Women who love men — grownup men, that is — should despair at the pathetic, grudging stamp of approval Man gives to Peter only after he’s had some conformity beaten into him. But men should despair of it, too.


MPAA: rated R for pervasive language, including crude and sexual references

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • mortadella

    Oh my god….how long do we have to watch these man- boys scratch their cinematic balls? All these films…which seem to be made by the graduating class of Judd Apatow’s School of Film are the same.
    Being ageless, and being an overgrown child is not the same thing.

    I swear these films are a conspiracy; they make guys feel better if they happen to be charmless slobs and freakish if they’re not.
    What do these films say to us women? I think they’re telling us these so called “men” are the norm and we should suck it up and deal with it….unless you want to become a lesbian, that it (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course :))

    And when is someone going make films about chicks who do meaningful, adventureous things that don’t involve bridal porn or sprogs?

  • Jurgan

    “sprogs”

    I feel I’m going to regret asking, but- what’s a sprog?

  • JoshB
  • MaSch

    mortadella: Since you object to bridal porn, there are quite few movies with chicks doing adventurous things that involve only non-bridal porn.

    Or so I heard.

  • Endor

    “Women who love men — grownup men, that is — should despair at the pathetic, grudging stamp of approval Man gives to Peter only after he’s had some conformity beaten into him.”

    Oh, we do. We do. Gone are the men, all that remain are the useless tools that end up on Tool Academy.

    “But men should despair of it, too.”

    Men do. Boys, dudes, guys, blokes and lads, on the other hand . . .

  • Chris

    mortadella, I love this type of comedy. I would not say though that I am a charmless slob, and I think my wife, whom I proposed in the middle of a park with her friends and family present, would agree. I wouldnt also hold it to the Apatow Crew, which now includes Adam Sandler (though I guess he was already apart of the Crew due to his guest work on Undeclared) to be the ones who champion films about “chicks who do meaningful, adventurous things.” That actually doesnt sound like a comedy, more of a drama, possibly an action/adventure movie. When I watch these movies the main thing that enjoy is the conversations between the characters. It’s how men talk, of course pumped up a little bit for film, but still an idea of how men talk. They make fun of each other, they give advice and they joke about each other’s lovers. And please before it begins dont act like a group of women have never talked about the men they love in a comical sense. I’ll watch the movie tonight though and be glad to point out that Mary gave the movie with a dude getting frosted like a cake a greenlight but trashes anything else that doesnt have the word “Smith” attached to the director’s name (which I’m totally cool with but will still point out).

  • Kathy A

    And when is someone going make films about chicks who do meaningful, adventureous things that don’t involve bridal porn or sprogs?

    Amelia is being released later this year–Hillary Swank as Amelia Earhart, yay!!

  • Nicky

    What a surprise, MaryAnn trashes yet another hilarious film from the Apatow crew that’s getting critical praise.

  • Paul

    “And when is someone going make films about chicks who do meaningful, adventureous things that don’t involve bridal porn or sprogs?”

    When I get published and sell the movie rights. Or you could just watch Joss Whedon’s stuff, if you don’t want to wait a decade or so.

    But as for the movie, I find myself puzzled as to the alternate reality in which a guy such as the hero isn’t constantly getting the “intelligent and sensitive guy but I just like you as a friend” speech. So maybe this is really SyFy. No, wait, it’s China, where being a gentleman is a turn on for girls but I have trouble making guy friends because I’m not a chain smoking alcoholic. No, wait, it’s absurdism, where one purposely creates a non-reality to send up the absurdity of reality.

  • http://www.rainbeau.ca Chris Beaubien

    (Why one of his many female friends couldn’t serve as best “man” isn’t even broached, because, of course, such an instance of nonconformity could not stand in this sadly confined universe.)

    Spoiler Warning

    On the third season of Dexter, our favourite serial killer realized his sister Debra was the perfect “best man” for his wedding. Despite how normal he tries to appear, Dexter is a thorough nonconformist.

  • amanohyo

    In anticipation of more comments like Nicky’s, remember that the “MA automatically hates everything associated with Apatow” theory is disproved by the following:

    cowritten by Apatow:
    Don’t Mess With the Zohan: Yellow Light
    Walk Hard: Green Light

    produced by Apatow:
    Talladega Nights: Green Light

    Of course, the value of the review is not found in the color of the light, but in the reviews themselves, and anyone who actually reads them should have no problem understanding why a particular movie received a certain “score,” even if you, the stranger visiting her site, would have scored it very differently.

    And Chris, of course there are many men who actually talk like the male characters in this movie. The issue MA (and mortadella) have is primarily with the assumption of the movie that paying attention to your inner (or outer in many cases) childish, crude, crass moron is just as important as being a compassionate, friendly, responsible adult.

    There have always been men who have chosen to remain mental adolescents. There’s nothing wrong with making a movie including this type of character. The problem arises when a movie takes the position that these manboys are not only the norm in society, but are also entitled to everything that they want (a beautiful, intelligent, responsible wife who caters to their every need with a smile, plenty of money, possessions, drugs, vacations, etc).

    More specifically, the problem, as the review clearly states, is that there is nothing wrong with Peter Klaven, but the movie believes that he deserves to be ridiculed for not regressing to bond with his unenlightened animal bretheren. It’s the AIG philosophy of social development: celebrate and reward failure, punish responsibility and prudence.

  • Sebastian

    Hmm, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pinapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Role Models, and now I Love You Man.

    I’m pretty sure what light she’s gonna give Observe and Report and Funny People later this year.

  • amanohyo

    *sigh* Why do I even try…Sebastian, please elaborate in a way that indicates you’ve actually read one of the reviews and are responding to its content. How about the Pineapple Express review? It’s only one paragraph. Or you could be even more ambitious and scroll upwards to read the review on this very page. Is that too much to ask?

  • Accounting Ninja

    But as for the movie, I find myself puzzled as to the alternate reality in which a guy such as the hero isn’t constantly getting the “intelligent and sensitive guy but I just like you as a friend” speech. So maybe this is really SyFy. No, wait, it’s China, where being a gentleman is a turn on for girls but I have trouble making guy friends because I’m not a chain smoking alcoholic. No, wait, it’s absurdism, where one purposely creates a non-reality to send up the absurdity of reality.

    Ugh. SPARE me.
    “Nice” Guys

  • Rick B.

    As usual, MA is completely tone-deaf when it comes to movies like this, as are many of the posters here. Peter isn’t “successful” – he’s unable to do what needs to be done to make his dream (turning a parcel of land into live/work lofts with a shopping courtyard – probably not a dream that works in 2009, but in the summer of 2008, it probably seemed realistic) come true. He’s too nice, too buttoned-up, and doesn’t really understand himself or seem to believe in himself.

    His relationship with Sydney doesn’t turn him into an obnoxious specimen of manliness, but it does make him more aware of himself, more honest with himself. Peter doesn’t really change that much, but by the end of the movie, it’s clear that Sydney definitely does need to change, as all of his friends are moving on with adult lives, and Peter has made it clear to him that some of his impulses don’t do him any favors. It isn’t Peter that is told to conform throughout the movie – Sydney is trying to make him conform *less*. If anything, Sydney is the one who is encouraged to conform more, but more to make his positive qualities (he does have several) easier for other people to see.

    As another guy who has always enjoyed the company of women (under a different set of circumstances, I would have asked a female friend to be my “best man” at my first wedding, in 1989) and been mystified by the behavior of most men, I understand where the movie is coming from. I’m not really in touch, in a meaningful way, with any friends from high school or college, I haven’t met many guys at work that I’ve struck up a rapport with (and the one close friend I made got laid off and moved out of the state). If you don’t have kids or some big social “guy” thing you do, it’s very, very difficult to make male friends. I’ve loved all of my friendships with women, but sometimes I want to talk about baseball, ya know? That doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about deeper stuff, too, or that I have any interest in grunting, scratching myself, and disparaging women with a bunch of guys. Sometimes, it would just be nice to have another guy to bounce things off of, just as it’s nice for my fiancee to spend some time with her female friends.

    This movie gets that situation just right. There are also some parts that are screamingly funny, some smaller performances that are very good (Jamie Pressley and J.K. Simmons are hilarious), and Paul Rudd and Jason Segal work very well together. Also, there are situations that come up that, in a lesser movie, would lead to very unrealistic blow-ups between people, but here, they end with a reasonable conversation – nice touch.

    As with most of Judd Apatow’s movies, I think Mary Ann brought her own issues into the theater, and had the movie pre-judged before the lights dimmed. Her review does not describe the movie I saw today. When I told my fiancee that both Salon and Slate had given positive reviews (both by female critics, by the way), she was pleased, but the next thing she said was “Flickfilosopher is going to hate it”, and I had to agree.

    We’re people who see indie/foreign movies and more mainstream comedies in pretty equal number, along with some comic book movies (we loved “Iron Man”, but didn’t see “Dark Knight”, since she can’t stand Christian Bale), some science fiction – we’re all over the map. It’s gotten to the point where I know that I can trust Mary Ann’s judgement on some things, but some movies I just know she’s going to dismiss out-of-hand. While knowing her tendencies is helpful, it’s still irksome to watch her repeat the same negative reviews, misreading movies in exactly the same way, over and over.

  • Paul

    When I wrote my post, I was mostly joking, but the more I think about it, the more I think that movie, at least as described above, would make more sense as a Chinese remake. One of the great romantic heroes of Chinese literature was a guy who prefered the artistic, domestic life of women more than the corrupt world of men (the author was a man bitter about men, but not the only Chinese writer to see work as something to be suffered until one could make enough money to retire and sit at home playing chess and drinking tea) and it annoyed his father to no end. The hero and heroine of “Dreams of Red Mansions/Chambers” didn’t have a happy ending, unfortunately, since Society was too too strong to be resisted. I’m not saying these plots parallel, but a Chinese audience is primed for such a main character.

  • Chris

    I really dont know what happened in Mary Ann’s life that she decided that she was going to hate anything associated with Judd Apatow. Only once has she given an Apatow Crew (A.C.) man a positive review, and that probably only happened because the guy was in a Kevin Smith flick, whom she is very fond of. The funny part is while she trashes on them, the majority of critics have given the overwelming majority of his films a good review and the audiences have shown there love to the tune of $935 million in box office reciepts (note this does not include films prior to 40 yr. Old Virgin, or Apatow produced films that did not feature his main players) and already I Love You Man is tracking to open at $18.5 million, which means it should make more than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. What this really all just proves is that Mary Ann is in the minority here, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I would like some consistency in her criticism.

    From Role Models, “No, the thing that pisses me off most about Role Models is that we’re meant to identify with Danny, who, at 35, is a blank slate. He has no friends — Wheeler is just a coworker, and they clearly can’t stand each other — and no apparent interests in anything whatsoever.” She bashes Rudd’s character for basically being a non caring smart ass whom suddenly changes. Here in this movie she is given a performance by Rudd in which he plays probably the most personable and likable character to ever show up in any A.C. movie. The guy is an honest dude, who treats the girl he loves with respect. He has his obscure hobbys and geeky habits just like the majority of men. He fences, some play softball. He likes to rock Rush, others play World of Warcraft all day. Point is that there are so many people like Paul Rudd in this movie and thats why they connect to it. So what character does he need to play to connect to Mary Ann?

    From Mary Ann’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall review, “It’s really hard to like a character when his own movie makes fun of him. And much comedy is mined here — if you find humiliation funny, that is — from Peter’s “sensitivity,” as if there were something funny about his pain and suffering.” I thought that the best part of this movie was that early on all the supporting characters that love Peter, his brother, his father, his mother and his fiance all state that they are ok with they way Peter is and even his fiance in way tries do describe it to her friends. They love Peter for who is and support him in his quest to find a male friend. Either way the important thing is that they love Peter for who is no matter what. So again, it seems like A.C. hear’s Mary Ann previous complaints and adjusts and again they get no response from her on this nice development.

    From Superbad, “This movie is fit only, perhaps, for other horny 13-year-old boys who haven’t yet gotten over their mortification of their own bodies or at the fluids bodies male and female produce in the natural course of being human, and “worse,” the natural course of being sexual creatures. ” Translation this movie is just too crude. I must say it’s nice to see Mary Ann didnt think this movie was too crude. It probably would have hurt the movie. It’s so funny that she has hated on so many of the A.C. for this very reason yet the one time they tone it back it’s apparently way too much for Mary Ann. Like I said before in my first post on this review, she is looking for someone to take a dump on someone’s head and blow bubbles out of there private areas. Projectile vomitting just aint gonna cut it here.

    So I think I’ve show a many ways on how this movie was different from previous A.C. movies, and thats how I felt walking out of it. The only common trend that showed up was Jason Segal’s character playing the guy who needs to learn how to begin to grow into his age more, and Paul Rudd using him as a way to recapture some of his youth. If thats what Mary Ann really hates then I guess her constant hate of A.C. movies is justified. If not, well she is hypocrite, which I’m fine with, I just dont think it’s a great trait for a critic to have.

    Oh since I didnt really say too much, I did love this movie, especially for the change of pace it brought. Jason Segal just seems to get better every year. I suggest those that liked him in this movie watch How I Met Your Mother on CBS if they havent already. If Paul Rudd’s character played tennis and loved to rock Who songs instead of Rush, he would playing me, as I’m just as social nerdy with friends as he is and they all love me for just as his do in this movie. Best projecticle vommit ever. Blowies, I’m out.

  • amanohyo

    Rick B., thanks for giving us your reading of the movie in a thoughtful way. I don’t really agree that Sydney is asking Peter to conform less, since the movie takes the position that Sydney is the one who is more in harmony with the prevailing attitudes about what it means to be a man.

    However, you do make a good point about the extent to which Sydney’s immaturity is criticized at the end of the movie. Again, I wouldn’t say that asking someone to complete the process of becoming an adult is the same as asking them to “conform,” but I can see how someone might have that perspective.

    It’s odd that you would criticize MA for bringing personal issues with her when your comment about wishing you had more male friends shows that you brought along a few issues of your own. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just point it out to note that it’s impossible not to bring personal issues with you everywhere you go.

    It’s clear that many people saw the movie in a similar way (although the fact that they did, and the fact that many of them are women is irrelevant), but remember that a different reading is not necessarily a misreading. Some of MA’s reviews may have similar ideas, but they are each distinct, at least as distinct as the movies that inspire them.

    However, I readily admit that there is a clear pattern when it comes to movies that view a manboy character sympathetically. You argue that these movies somehow encourage these characters to grow up and/or that manboys have valuable lessons to teach about nonconformity. MA consistently argues that these movies glorify and excuse behavior that is nonproductive, self-destructive, and asinine and incorrectly assume that being “too-nice and buttoned-up” is a state that must be corrected. I’m not sure why her consistency about this is a bad thing, as you admit yourself “knowing her tendencies is helpful.” Why not just read the reviews of different critics when it comes to this type of movie?

    Oh well, here’s my theory about why these movies are popping up:

    Society as whole is patriachal, and the movie industry tends to reinforce the gender status quo to an even greater extent than society at large.

    Women are taking advantage of opportunities and gaining ground rapidly in society. Men are being asked more and more to shoulder their share of responsiblity and stress.

    Simultaneously, men are being encouraged by marketers to remain in a short-term, quick-fix, irresponsible adolescent frame of mind so that they will spend more money, ideally this will extend adolescence by a decade or more. You might argue that this is just asking men to, “know and be true to themselves,” but how is acknowledging an impulse and choosing not to give in to it not being true to yourself as a functioning adult?

    As a result, men are getting competing signals. On the one hand, they are told, “follow your impulses, stay young and hip, hang out with your buds, buy and enjoy the latest stuff!.” On the other hand, working women are asking them to turn off ESPN, cut down on spending, cut back on gaming, solve problems, and help out around the home.

    These movies look with nostalgia back at male adolescence and say, “It’s okay to be a kid again guys. Go ahead, don’t be so straightlaced and uptight. Let yourself go. Watch sports and hang out with the guys.” That’s a very alluring message, and not nessarily a bad one in moderation.

    The problem is that when one person decides to let themselves go, the other person in the relationship is left with even more on their plate which breeds resentment. Another problem is that marketers are giving men a sense of entitlement, telling them that they should be able to do and have whatever they want whenever they want. When someone close to them lets them know that this isn’t actually the case, resentment builds on both sides. This sense of entitlement also leads to a proliferation of resentful, passive aggressive “Nice Guys.”

    These movies are a release valve for all that building resentment on the male side. They let men know that you don’t have to accept these things called adulthood, civility, and responsibility, indeed it’s dangerous to do so, as you very well may lose your masculinity (Note how many jokes in these movies revolve around ridiculing a man by comparing him to a woman). The only cure is to have “real” male friends, and to spend more time with them.

    The big catch is that the movies don’t offer a similar release valve for the building resentment on the female side. They are told to either carry the extra weight with a smile (and in this economy it can be quite a lot) or to spend money on clothes and make-up which usually exacerbates the problem. Sure, they can hang out with their girlfriends and complain, but they’d better not try to address the problem by talking to (or eventually leaving) their significant other or they are a materialistic, controlling bitch, heartlessly sapping their partner’s precious masculinity.

    Apatow movies aren’t actively misogynistic, unlike so many recent comedies. This is what leads many critics to conclude that they are repectful to their female characters. I would agree that they are an improvement over the typical comedy, but that in the end, their obsession with the plight of the white, middle-class, metrosexual man promotes a stronger relationship between men at the expense of a healthier relationship between men and women. That’s where we should be focusing our efforts as a society.

  • amanohyo

    Chris, thank you for taking the time to read the reviews and respond to their content. You show that MA gives different reasons for disliking each of the movies, and show that you disagree with those reasons which makes sense, since you liked them.

    You also correctly note the common trend that shows up in many of the movies, a character who “recaptures some of his youth” from a late blooming character. Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the whole “recapturing youth” process as portrayed in these movies is beneficial. More importantly, for the most part these movies excuse or even celebrate the obnoxious, childish late bloomers and may go so far as to suggest that they should be considered attractive, desirable, and even wise.

    But what, exactly, could MA do as a reviewer that would satisfy you? By your own admission, she is consistent. As your quotes show, she provides reasons for liking or disliking a movie in her review that respond to specific content in the films. She can’t state that she automatically hates all Apatow associated movies, because she doesn’t, and even if she did, there’s always the chance that a movie like Talladega Nights will surprise her.

    No critic goes into a screening hoping to be disappointed. Sure, they might have low expectations, but that should make it easier, not harder for the movie to be a pleasant surprise. Do you want her to lie and claim that she enjoyed a movie when she didn’t just for you (now that would be real hypocrisy)? I guess what I’m asking is how are these reviews negatively impacting your quality of life and should MA really be expected to do anything about it on her personal site? I mean Apatow sometimes even shows up on the bias meter. What more can she do?

  • MaryAnn

    Point is that there are so many people like Paul Rudd in this movie and thats why they connect to it. So what character does he need to play to connect to Mary Ann?

    Somehow you’ve missed the point of my review: that there’s nothing wrong with the Rudd character here. I *do* like him. (The “sweet, sexy” thing might have clued you in.) The problem is that *the movie doesn’t like him.* The movie thinks there’s something broken about him. And that really, really pisses me off.

  • Chris

    Mary Ann,

    As stated before, the movie does like him. By his own decision does he try to meet male friends. His fiance doesnt say you need to get some male friends for our wedding so we dont look like fools. He over hears her talking to her friends on the fact that he does have a lack of male friends, but she never says “hey that’s a problem he needs to fix.” She just wants him to be happy. His family echoes those views. Sorry if I miss read your view on Rudd, the sweet sexy comments are usually made by you in a tone of a crush on Paul Rudd the person and a hatred that he isnt playing roles that you want to see him in.

    amanohyo,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my views. It’s no secret that I love Apatow movies. I’ve battled Mary’s opinions pretty much from day one, and of course I respect anyone’s choice not to like a film. I do though question when people start pigeon hole everything a particular group does and it feels like it has gotten to a point like that with Mary Ann. I might understand that if were talking about the production group that has given us Action Movie and the 55 other films that use the same formula to achieve the same jokes. Thats understandable. What I’m looking for is a consistant reason that Mary Ann takes down everything these guys do and that she can back up disliking a movie even when they do exactly what she was asking for in the previous film.

    This extends past I Love You Man and Knocked Up. It goes to the point that movies like Horton Hears a Who gets trashed. I’m wondering if the verdict for next week’s Monsters vs. Aliens is in already just because Seth Rogen is a character. I can see it now, “Rogen plays a blob with no brain and is used for cheap humor, so pretty much Rogen plays himself.”

  • Rick B.

    re: amonohyo

    “Rick B., thanks for giving us your reading of the movie in a thoughtful way. I don’t really agree that Sydney is asking Peter to conform less, since the movie takes the position that Sydney is the one who is more in harmony with the prevailing attitudes about what it means to be a man.

    However, you do make a good point about the extent to which Sydney’s immaturity is criticized at the end of the movie. Again, I wouldn’t say that asking someone to complete the process of becoming an adult is the same as asking them to “conform,” but I can see how someone might have that perspective.”

    That’s my point – all Sydney really does is show Peter a couple of ways to be a “better” version of who he is, someone who is both more relaxed (because he’s not shutting off areas of himself) and more conscious (by making him at least think about why he was marrying Zoey). Sydney, on the other hand, is confronted with the fact that he can’t keep living as he has indefinitely – his friends are gradually dropping away, and he’s becoming less relevant to their lives.

    “It’s odd that you would criticize MA for bringing personal issues with her when your comment about wishing you had more male friends shows that you brought along a few issues of your own. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just point it out to note that it’s impossible not to bring personal issues with you everywhere you go.”

    I had that in common with *this* character in *this* movie, but I haven’t gotten anybody pregnant while living in a pigsty with a bunch of stoners; I haven’t gone on an all-night odyssey with with my profane, chubby best friend; I haven’t been dumped by my actress girlfriend and run into her and her rock star new boyfriend in Hawaii, etc. I loved all of those movies, but there’s something about each of them that drives MA bonkers, in a slightly-different way each time. That’s what I’m getting at.

    Also, your examples of Apatow-associated movies that MA likes are straw men – they are stylistically very different from the movies we’re really discussing here.

    There are (at least) a couple different ways a critic can go about his/her work: you can review the “work that is”, and judge it on how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do (if it’s a “wrestling picture”, is it a good example of the form?), or review the work as you wish it was (“I wanted to see a wrestling picture that brought in larger themes, the big questions, but in the end, it was just a wrestling picture”). Mary Ann’s reviews of the Apatow(esque) movies are a particular brand of the latter method, and as criticism, I think they’re increasingly pointless.

    In each of these movies, I think the screenwriters/filmmakers started out with a basic problem (ie,”What if this guy got you pregnant?” or “Peter is really comfortable with women, but doesn’t have a close male friend to be his Best Man at his wedding”) that would set up certain situations and interactions between characters. It might not always be the most plausible problem or the most likely solution to the problem in the end, but the goal is to tell an entertaining, funny story about this group of characters, warts and all (nobody is close to perfect in any of these movies), trying to come to grips with this issue.

    Mary Ann generally refuses to go along for the ride, for whatever reason. Her criticism largely boils down to “implausible/non-existent problem, implausible solution – skip it!” I just don’t think she gives any of these movies credit for how well they accomplish what they set out to do, for being what they set out to be. It’s like a critic who knows they hate anime (as I generally do, with a few exceptions) continuing to review every new anime that gets released, but the reviews all amount to “why do the characters all have HUGE EYES, and why are they mostly realistic except for the times when characters FREAK OUT and their faces totally change?” If you can’t get past the basic assumption(s) of the movie or genre, what’s the point of writing a review?

    I’ve enjoyed reading Mary Ann’s reviews for several years (I think I started reading her around 2001 or so). I’ve agreed with a lot of her reviews, far more than I’ve disagreed with. On this particular group of movies, though, I don’t think she’s doing herself any favors by continuing to review them in such a predictable fashion. Other critics that I read (Dana Stevens at Slate.com, Stephanie Zacharek and Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum at EW) manage to have discernible tastes without seeming to pre-judge any particular movie or genre, and I find their reviews more trustworthy, influential, and professional because of it.

  • amanohyo

    So… you wish she gave credit to the movies for acomplishing what they set out to do. And what they set out to do is to tell an interesting, funny, entertaining story about a group of characters coming to grips with a problem.

    There are a few problems with that request. First of all, how does she determine whether or not these movies accomplished what they set out to do, if she doesn’t actually believe that that the story is interesting, funny, and/or entertaining?

    Secondly, how could such a review even be written? “You know, I don’t really like this kind of movie, but if you’re the type of person who likes these movies, this is a movie that you’ll probably like. (MA grapples with this a bit in her Aqua Teen HF review)” How could that possibly more valuable than her honest, thoughtful reaction?

    Thirdly, how can you be sure that she is judging these movies primarily on the basis of what she wishes they were? There’s no way to judge a movie in complete isolation from any external expectations/comparisons just as it’s impossible to judge it solely on the basis of what you wish it was. It’s true that generally speaking, the less you enjoy a movie, the more time you spend rewriting it in your head, but I don’t see anything wrong with that type of hypothetical thinking. It’s actually a very valuable skill for a writer/critic to have.

    You also assume that she should excuse certain flaws because they are just conventions of the genre. I disagree. Using your example, another convention of anime is the use of fanservice: gratuitous upskirt shots, exaggerated breast jiggling, etc. I know these are conventions of the genre, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get pissed everytime I see them and take time to point them out in reviews, because no conventions should be sacrosanct or etched in stone.

    Most importantly, in the end it comes down to you telling MA what movies she should review and how she should review them. That’s a pretty big demand, even if you were actually her editor. I ask again, why not just read the reviews from some of the other critics you listed for more perspectives? You seem to want to convince MA to suddenly “see the error of her ways” and reverse her opinions.

    I understand where you’re coming from though. It’s as if a videogame site chose a reviewer who openly hates FPS’s to review Halo III, and they predictably panned it (the wrath of the fanboys would be truly terrible and somewhat justified). But this isn’t a site where movies are reviewed as products for a generic public; it’s explicitly a site that gives the personal reactions and thoughts of one person who is very upfront about her biases. MA isn’t going to suppress certain parts of her personality in the interest of some kind of faux editorial impartiality. There are lots of writers for large media outlets that will, but thankfully this isn’t one of them.

  • JoshB

    Eep. An FF Apatow review generates controversy. Whouda thunk?

    The problem is that *the movie doesn’t like him.* The movie thinks there’s something broken about him

    I didn’t get this at all. The movie thinks Peter’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. The movie portrays his friendship with Sydney as destructive to everything that made him cool.

    In the end it seems like Peter changes Sydney a lot more than vice-versa.

  • audacity

    Everyone: Listen! This is not a Judd Apatow movie. Okay? Okay.

    I saw I Love You, Man after reading this review, and I did not have the same problems with it as the reviewer at ALL. Sure, it has issues (it’s a movie made by hollywood, of course it has issues, especially with homosexuality being played for laughs), but the reviewer’s main point was that the nice, gentlemanly guy had to “change” and become “manly.” I actually found the opposite to be true. That character didn’t change at all in his interactions with other people or in the “feminine” things he did, other than to become more confident (and I actually MEAN more confident, not more “macho”—he was less likely to deride himself and was able to stand up to a character who was trying to steal his commissions and invading his personal space). The “best friend” character, who was more “manly” and misogynistic—he made fun of the main character by telling him to “remove his tampon,” insisted that he not be made to play sports with women, and had “rules” about what things one should talk about with women vs. men—actually got told off for his “rules” about relationships with women and was made to accept that the main character’s fiancee was also his friend. I don’t know if the reviewer and I saw the same movie!

  • mortadella

    Anyone else find Jason Segel icky?

  • amanohyo

    audacity, that’s a good point similar to Rick B.’s. I guess it just comes down to how you think the movie views the two main characters. Kinda reminds me of those discussion questions in elementary school English textbooks.

    DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

    1) Which character did you identify with more?

    2) What character flaws does Peter have at the beginning of the story? What about Sydney?

    3) What has Peter learned from Sydney by the end of the story? What has Sydney learned from Peter?

    4) Would you recommend this story to a friend? Why or why not?

    @ mortadella, I thought Jason Segal was reasonably likable in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared (as far as I remember), but the characters he’s played in his recent movies are all pretty slimy, personality-wise. I have no opinion about his physical appearance (my wife says he looks sleazy), and of course, I don’t know what he’s like in person.

  • MaryAnn

    The movie thinks Peter’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    The movie is predicated on the idea that Peter is broken and needs to be fixed. And then it fixes him, and in ways that a real Peter (and the real world) would probably reject, like Sydney’s stunt with the billboards. That *works,* in a movie like this, because its attitude is: Big and loud and crude and obvious works better than elegant and quiet does. Peter *must* be successful to have gotten the listing on the Lou Ferrigno house in the first place, but all of a sudden, he can’t do his job without Sydney’s input? Bullshit.

  • Chris

    I love how everyone keeps stating that Peter changed Sydney, yet a freaking billboard scene is what has Mary Ann up in arms and is her basis that this movie changed him. You act as if any change in one these characters is a bad thing. Lord help the film industry if they demenostrate a friend helping another friend to gain some confidence in himself

  • Paul

    I obviously don’t agree with MaryAnn’s reviews all the time, but I like her having a bias. It’s in her Voice, and that makes her reviews more interesting and entertaining. Making her reviews more objective would rob me of the experience of her snark. There isn’t much “snark” in China. Most people are too ernest or too much the opposite.

  • MaryAnn

    You act as if any change in one these characters is a bad thing.

    Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Change *as this movie depicts it* — as something forced upon Peter even though he doesn’t need it — is not.

    How many times must I point out that *how a story is told* and the attitudes with which a plot is set in and kept in motion is the key thing?

    Can it be that so few people understand the concept of context?

  • misterb

    My impression is that the different sides to this story aren’t man vs woman, but East Coast vs West Coast. “ILY,M” is a very LA movie with a California buzz to it. the key clue is the schtick with Peter fouling up his lingo. He keeps trying to talk like a Californian but he can’t quite get it right until he loses his East Coast uptightness. The happy ending is that he’s finally communicating in Californese with his bud when they are exchanging I love yous.

    Perhaps if you don’t appreciate Californication, you don’t see this as a happy ending.

  • Mathias

    Wow, MaryAnn, you really see nothing wrong with a hetro guy in his 30s not having a single male friend? Not even one?

    There’s nothing wrong with having female friends at all, but when a straight guy in his 30s feel more comfortable and has more in common with women than other men, there’s gotta be some deeper pyschological reasons behind it. Much deeper than the reasons this film gives.

    Suppose the genders were reversed. I mean, has anyone ever heard of a hetro woman in her 30s having exclusively male friends? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that she’s missing out on a lot.

  • Ryan

    This amused me at first, but now I sort of despair over it.

    Stop accusing MaryAnn of coming to films with a ‘personal bias’ EVERY viewer and reviewer comes at a film with a personal bias! We are people, we have biases.

    Successful reviewers are successful because they find an audience for their bias (and generally because they write well.) Arguing with a reviewer because you DISAGREE with their review is insane.

    They aren’t rendering an impartial verdict on the movie…they’re writing up THEIR OPINION. Hopefully it is an opinion supported by some knowledge about the film-making process, etc.

    That’s it. If you don’t like their review…if you can’t STAND that somebody doesn’t agree with your take on a movie…you need to know two things:

    1) You can always find a reviewer who DOES agree with you. Other than Gigli I’m pretty sure most movies have received both positive and negative reviews.

    2) There will always be somebody out there who disagrees with your opinion on the movie you just watched. Take that as a given.

  • Accounting Ninja

    but when a straight guy in his 30s feel more comfortable and has more in common with women than other men, there’s gotta be some deeper pyschological reasons behind it. Much deeper than the reasons this film gives.

    My husband has more women friends than guy friends. He has maybe one guy friend from the National Guard, but they hardly ever hang out. So now he has psychological issues??

    Suppose the genders were reversed. I mean, has anyone ever heard of a hetro woman in her 30s having exclusively male friends? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that she’s missing out on a lot.

    And this is me. I have one girlfriend. The rest are guys. I don’t think I’m missing out at all. And it’s not that I shun women, it’s just that as a geeky girl, I tend to have more in common with males.

    It’s funny how quick people are to think there’s something mentally wrong with others who don’t happen to have friends the same way they do. There are so many people out there that everyone is bound to have different preferences about friends, and to stigmatize because of it seems silly to me.

  • Mathias

    Your husband still has one male friend and you still have one girlfriend. That’s not what i was discribing, so there’s obviously nothing going on in your heads.

    Like i said, has anyone met either a a hetero guy or girl in their 30s without a single friend of their own gender?

  • MaryAnn

    Mathias, one of the reasons I particularly hate movies like this is that they force me to sound like I’m arguing against something I actually agree with. I do think it’s probably more healthy to have all sorts of friends rather than none. But the way this movie goes about supposedly advocating this leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    You yourself note:

    has anyone met either a a hetero guy or girl in their 30s without a single friend of their own gender?

    So shouldn’t that mean that you don’t find the scenario of the film realistic? Aren’t you suggesting that the Paul Rudd character should be damaged rather than the apparently well-adjusted man that he is, at least to my eye, right from the beginning of the movie?

  • Accounting Ninja

    Your husband still has one male friend and you still have one girlfriend. That’s not what i was discribing, so there’s obviously nothing going on in your heads.

    It doesn’t matter. We’re still “outside the norm”. He’d rather gouge his eyes out than drink beer, watch sports, and I feel the same about stereotypical female-friend pursuits. And we’d both rather hang out with each other than any of our friends.

    Call it unusual, sure, but what I took issue with is assuming such people are mentally not right. I mean, we’re all different and stuff.

    Mary Ann is right when she says that the movie did not succeed in portraying him as damaged (enough). It’s all in the way the movie does it. I Love You Man says: “Hehe, look at this wuss. He hangs around chicks doing chick things and doesn’t have a single guy friend. Freak.” But they don’t explain WHY he would be the type to eschew men (or other men eschew him), because he seems perfectly fine. It’s as though the writers said, “How can we make this guy as alien as possible to other men? Oh, I know! Make it so he has no guy friends and all other guys are strange to him!” But they didn’t change anything about his personality to account for this. That’s called an Ass Pull and it’s lazy writing.

    Contrast that with, say, 40 Year Old Virgin, where they succeeded in making you believe that okay, this guy’s a virgin. They made it believable while still making Andy not repulsive. If he had been a charming, confident, well-rounded handsome man in all other aspects you’d be like, come on! no way!

  • Mathias

    Yes, i am saying just that MaryAnn. I agree with you that Paul Rudd’s character is unrealistic. He shouldn’t be so well-adjusted. But to say that nothing is wrong with him is very wrong.

    He shows very good social skills throughout and the film leaves you scratching your head at why he didn’t do this 10 or 20 years earlier. I can’t buy that he’s hardly gone a week without some girlfriend he’s tending to hand and foot. Not even the most successful lotharios could boast of such a feat.

    If this were a drama, he’d be visiting a pychiatrist and figuring out the deeper reasons why. Would you be slamming that film for forcing him to confrom to standard male archetypes? I’m guessing no. It’s just too bad that this film didn’t want to dig that deep. At no point is there a moment when the film forces Paul Rudd’s character to face his own “demons” and figure out why he is the way he is and go on a quest to “course correct”. You should be slamming this film for not doing that instead of the opposite.

    And Accounting Ninja, i’m not talking about people “outside the norm” like you and your husband, but a person who, for whatever reason, is INCAPABLE of making friends of their own gender. There’s a vast difference so please stop pretending like there isn’t.

  • Accounting Ninja

    but when a straight guy in his 30s feel more comfortable and has more in common with women than other men, there’s gotta be some deeper pyschological reasons behind it. Much deeper than the reasons this film gives

    THIS is what you said. Not “incapable of making friends of your own gender” as you are now saying, YOU said “feels more comfortable and has more in common with” women instead of men. So don’t get testy with me because I called you on your generalization that you backtracked on to make it more of an extreme.

  • Mathias

    Accounting Ninja, even MaryAnn agrees with me that it’s not healthy for a person to have no friends of their own gender. I don’t see you accusing her of calling her out for “thinking there’s something mentally wrong with others who don’t happen to have friends the same way they do.”

    But then again, your self appointed position of protector of MaryAnn’s ideals, opinions, and values in every one of her reviews probably doesn’t permit you to do so.

  • Accounting Ninja

    But then again, your self appointed position of protector of MaryAnn’s ideals, opinions, and values in every one of her reviews probably doesn’t permit you to do so.

    Oooh, BURN. You wound me. I’m “self-appointed” nothing. MAJ and I just happen to agree on lots of stuff. So what? We disagree on stuff too. I just don’t bother commenting when I disagree, because I don’t feel like arguing with the hostess. It’s HER site, I know her POVs, and if I disagree I just won’t join in that particular discussion. But other commenters I disagree with, Mathias, I will argue with.
    Again, you completely side-step my pointing out the discrepencies in your arguments and choose to attack me personally. Your position as you stated it seemed to have changed as I’ve pointed out, yet ad-hominem and snide comments seem to be the only weapons in your arsenal. If that’s the case, I’m not interested in talking to you.

  • JoshB

    But then again, your self appointed position of protector of MaryAnn’s ideals, opinions, and values in every one of her reviews probably doesn’t permit you to do so.

    Dude, LAME.

    ad hominem: leveling a personal attack against an opponent because you can’t effectively debate the merits of the argument.

    even MaryAnn agrees with me

    SUPER LAME!

    Hiding behind the host is intellectual cowardice.

  • Mathias

    I’m gonna say this once more and then stop posting, a straight person like Paul Rudd’s character who is incapable of making friends with a person of their own gender is unheard of in real life.

    I wish this film noticed that and focused much more on it.

    And intellectual cowardice is latching on to MaryAnn’s viewpoints when you agree with her and defending it against anyone who disgarees with you but staying silent when she says something you disagree with. Such a person is not interested in debating the merits of an arguement, only in debating others not named MaryAnn.

  • Accounting Ninja

    And intellectual cowardice is latching on to MaryAnn’s viewpoints when you agree with her and defending it against anyone who disgarees with you but staying silent when she says something you disagree with.

    Ha. Nope. It’s called being polite rather than belligerent. Here’s how it is: MAJ has views. It’s *her* site. She’s not going to change them and I’m not going to be a twat and force her to defend herself for every little thing *I* don’t agree with (and if I did, what the hell would I even be doing here??). I mean, who’s that going to benefit? Not me, because I do not aspire to be a troll.

    It just happens that feminism is an important topic to me, so you tend to see me in posts related to gender, sexism and the like. And it just happens that it’s important to MAJ too, which is why I like her site so much. If you think I am aping her or kissing up, well, then that’s your problem, because my views are very much my own.

    Intellectual cowardice would be proclaiming that I agree with something just to be liked or to curry favor. Which I do not do. I choose to remain silent or direct my attention at matters I wish to discuss. It’s being mature, really.

    Now let’s get back to what *you* refuse to acknowledge: the first thing you said was:

    but when a straight guy in his 30s feel more comfortable and has more in common with women than other men, there’s gotta be some deeper pyschological reasons behind it.

    Note the bold. You say “more in common” and “more comfortable”. This is hardly to be interpreted as the exclusion of the entire male gender. Making generalizations like this is foolish and frankly, insulting, especially when you drag mental illness into it.

    OH! But when I call this to your gracious attention, you change tacks:

    And Accounting Ninja, i’m not talking about people “outside the norm” like you and your husband, but a person who, for whatever reason, is INCAPABLE of making friends of their own gender. There’s a vast difference so please stop pretending like there isn’t.

    Love that dismissive snippy bit at the end. Very defensive. >:) Also, bold added.

    So my question to you is, if you can refrain from insulting me (hard, I know, I’m just so irritating in my tenacity), how are these two arguments in any way the same thing?

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    The older I get, the less I care about the gender of my friends and the more I care about whether they possess more abstract qualities like loyalty, honesty, reliability, etc. I have more respect for the few friends who genuinely try to understand me and who have stood by me throughout many a crisis than I do the more lukewarm friends who don’t try and haven’t stood by me.

    Indeed, I find myself regretting the many years when I did concern myself with my friends’ genders.

    Does this make me weird? Then okay, I’m weird.

    But, as an old song once noted, there are times when it’s okay to feel like a fifth wheel.

    And quite frankly, we all have qualities that distinguish us from someone else’s idea of the norm.

    Besides, I’d rather have ten friends of the “wrong” gender who really “get” me and to whom I can really talk than a hundred so-called friends of the “right” gender who don’t “get” me and who are not really interested in anything I have to say.

    And for what it’s worth, I’m straight. Not that that should make any difference.

  • Mathias

    Ninja, you’re right. I was generalizing and said that before i crsytalized my arguement. Forget i said it ‘cuz it’s got nothing to do with this flick. There’s a world of difference between being comfortable with the opposite gender and being unable to make friends of your own gender. I offcially take that back.

    And your excuse for not expressing your opinions when you disagree with MaryAnn is laughable. First of all, there’s a big difference between stating your opionion on why you disagree and being a belligerent troll about it. Are all of us who disagree with MaryAnn like that? Secondly, we both know that there’s little chance of changing MaryAnn’s mind on much. Stating a dissenting view shouldn’t be based on changing her mind ‘cuz the best you can do is to point attention to something she may have overlooked and state your reasons why you disagree. Thirdly, do you honestly believe that MaryAnn doesn’t want you to express your dissenting views on the issues she brings up? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want the equivalent of yes-men populating this site. So try not to be one. I’m sure you’ll find it much less painful than you’re imagining it and who knows, horror of horrors, you may even like it. *Gasp*

  • Accounting Ninja
    I’m sure you’ll find it much less painful than you’re imagining it and who knows, horror of horrors, you may even like it. *Gasp*

    I am just not interested in arguing, unless I find something particularly egregious. I am secure enough in my beliefs that I just don’t feel the need to defend them all the time. If someone asked me, hey, why do you think ABC, I’ll tell them. Yes, even if MAJ did it, and I wouldn’t hold back in my honesty, either. Think whatever you want about my motives. Trust me, I’ve heard the “coward” jab before. Most of my family is the agrumentative type and take issue with everything. If you cross their beliefs, they will vehemently defend them. The arguing just doesn’t stop. But, surprise surprise, no one ever changes their mind. They just keep at it. They want me to join in at it, but no thanks. Of course, the fact that most of them are religious and I am an atheist might have something to do with it.

    Also, MAJ and I just happen to have stuff in common. So if you have tons of stuff in common with someone, you are just copying/sucking up? I’m not going to pretend to disagree with her just so I won’t appear as a “yes man”. I mean, that’s silly, and frankly, I don’t care if other people think that of me. There are only a couple of things I really disagree with her on, one being socialized health care. She is for it, I am against it. So in her review of Sicko, she was predictably for it. But I’m not going to bother listing all the reasons why I don’t think it’s a good idea, which several people did and it went round and round. I’m just not that passionate about it. On a less serious topic, I seem to remember her liking Michael Bay’s Transformers, which I thought was a steaming pile. She almost lost her “cred” with me. ;P Also, 40 Year Old Virgin: I liked it, she didn’t. And I said so.

    It boils down to this: When we’re talking about a host of a blog, unless she says something really out of line, I just chalk it up to different strokes. Telling her what to write/do/think/feel/say on her own blog is an exercise in futility. If it becomes so bad that she always pisses me off, I’d just find another blog. Who wants to be pissed off and arguing with a blog writer all the time? It’s not that I’m afraid of offending her.

    Hear that, MAJ? ;P

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not offended. Except, maybe, when people twist what I wrote. Like Mathias did:

    Accounting Ninja, even MaryAnn agrees with me that it’s not healthy for a person to have no friends of their own gender.

    Actually, I said it was “probably” not healthy. Peter seems pretty healthy to me, though.

    And for the record, I find suckups boring and annoying. People who appear to knee-jerk agree with me are worst than those who knee-jerk disagree with me.

    I’m NOT saying this applies to anyone in this thread. I’m just speaking in general, so that no one feels the need to accuse anyone of sucking up to me thinking it will endear them to me. It won’t.

  • Jacob

    I know a lot of these comments are over half a decade old but coincidentally today was the first time I came across your site (this was the first review I happened upon) and I ran across this film right now. So, your ideas are fresh in my head. So, I don’t think this movie is as simple as one man trying to convert another man into a more generic heterosexual, white, middle class lifestyle. There is actually some pretty interesting subtext, if you will. It is about a man struggling with his identity. Paul Rudd’s character is struggling between more traditional gender roles and the one role he is used to inhabiting with his wife. The comedy comes out of how these people define their gender roles. It is one thing to say the movie is bad because it is does not represent characters with more sophisticated ideas about gender roles but I don’t think that takes away from the realism these characters represent. That is, just because these characters think the way they do, does not mean the filmmakers or actors endorse the way of thinking about gender that the characters do. The actors and filmmakers are presenting a characterization of a popular way of thinking about gender. There is something to be said for making these characters representative of a large portion of people living today. Anyway, did you see the end of the movie? Jason Segal’s character gives in to his gender role normalizing tendencies and openly expresses his love for another man. Going by your logic, Jason Segal’s character ought to be praised for moving past his gender normalizing tendencies. But all in all, a movie should not be judged by whether or not you like the characters, but rather how do the filmmakers present a portrait of realistic characters. In the latter sense, this film succeeds.