Here's how most modern guy comedies work: You have a child-man (or men) and they have a kind of club that girls can't join - think "Diner." Think, more recently, "Knocked Up."
Look at these slobs! It's like they want to stay 12 years old - and also drink and do serious drugs.
But women inevitably come on the scene, and child-men have to balance the demands of buddydom with maturity and domesticity. Maybe the buddies help the hero talk to girls, like in "The 40 Year Old Virgin."
The funny thing about "I Love You, Man" - the very, very funny thing - is that it turns the formula inside-out.
The hero, Peter, played by Paul Rudd, does fine with women; he has a gorgeous fiancée (Holy mackerel, check her out!) played by Rashida Jones.
But it's as if we now live in a slob-comedy culture. A guy has to be able to say "Bro" and "Dude" and high-five, or something's fishy.
Peter is so out of it vis a vis hetero talk he has to take advice from his gay brother, played by Andy Samberg.
You notice there's a sub-theme here, right? Hard to miss. Is Peter kind of, uh, gay? No … I think … no!
But there's enough uncertainty to make him a tad uncomfortable around male bodies. A key reference here is the same writer-director, John Hamburg's 2004 romantic comedy "Along Came Polly." (You might want to have a barf bag ready.)
A lot of Peter's awkwardness in "I Love You, Man" could be, well, some call it "homosexual panic." And other men do think Peter's cute.
Luckily for him, he finds a guy-friend who's a guy's guy, played by Jason Segel, who lumbers into an open house Peter's holding (he's a realtor) for the free food, and they bond over staring at another man's body.
I don't want to get too pointy-headed about all the dark themes in "I Love You, Man," which is basically a broad comedy with crack performances by Rudd and Segel. But gender confusion is a classic theme in comedy. [Look at Cary Grant's attire in "Bringing Up Baby."]
And what makes "I Love You, Man" work like gangbusters is that all that confusion is right there on the screen to make us squirm real good!
David Edelstein endorses: