Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Love You, Man: A Singletude Review

It's official! I have a crush! Since it arrived from Netflix, I've been in deep like with I Love You, Man. The bromance of the century is as spit-out-your-Sprite funny as the likes of Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up, but the themes it addresses through dialogue so achingly real it feels like a hammer to the funny bone elevate this flick several cuts above. So why am I still withholding affection? Because while the movie skewers matrimania, it still demonizes singles.

Meet Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), a straight-laced, dependable, ambitious yet sensitive real estate agent in touch with his feminine side. Now meet Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones), sweet, attractive, easygoing co-owner of a retail boutique. The two live in a beautiful house in the suburbs of LA, and Peter has just proposed. They have it all, which usually signals the end of the movie. Not in this case.

See, Peter is missing something--friends. Oh, he has co-workers and acquaintances, even fencing buddies, but no one close enough to stand up for him at his wedding. After he overhears Zooey's BFFs critiquing his social skills, he has an epiphany: "I gotta get some f****** friends!" he vows. From that point on, he becomes a man on a mission to cleverly exploit every parallel to contemporary dating cliches. In the process, he endures misguided "set-ups" (one of which includes possibly the best projectile vomiting scene in cinematic history), discovers that men online lie about their age, and agonizes over how soon to call for that first "man date." The expected hilarity ensues, not just because Peter isn't actually romancing these guys but because it hits home that much of the same hope, anxiety, frustration, and excitement that we associate with dating applies to courting a new friend, as well.

Now enter Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a womanizing, Cheeto-munching, bar-brawling, air guitar-riffing man's man. Here the movie takes a detour to Fight Club Lite as Sydney bonds with Peter, teaching him to speak Guy (a language he flubs often and spectacularly), obey the rules of the brotherhood, and grow a pair. It's all good, and Peter is feeling the brotherly love until his fiancee fears that their relationship is threatening to become a menage a trois.

Because this is, after all, a Hollywood comedy, alter egos Peter and Sydney must each know something the other needs to learn in order to grow and change. Peter, obviously, needs friends. Director John Hamburg has decided that Sydney needs a girlfriend. Or maybe not a girlfriend yet--mercifully, the set-up that Peter and Zooey force on him doesn't work out--but the maturity and interpersonal skills necessary to land one. Therein lies the reason for my love-hate relationship with I Love You, Man.

What the movie does right is present a positive model for a balanced relationship that is not overly couplecentric. Peter and Zooey love each other and enjoy spending time together, but, by the end, they also have fulfilling lives apart with their own friends and career interests. The message that marital partners can't be each other's "everything," that they need platonic friends outside the relationship, is so enlightened and exceptional in the entertainment world that singles with singletude can't help but fall hard for this film.

On the other hand, as much fun and heart as Sydney brings to this story, he's still a caricature of the aging bachelor who refuses to grow up while all his friends are settling down. In one troubling scene, he phones everyone he knows to make weekend plans but is rejected by one after the other. Turns out his friends have wives and children who top their priority lists. Ok, Mr. Hamburg, we get it. When push comes to shove, family trumps friends. Fine. But then you pull out the heavyweights, the three Bs, and leave Sydney looking bummed, bored, and bereft. This is a guy who supposedly has a successful investment business, a collection of high-end guitars he rocks out on, a dog he's devoted to, and friends he hangs with a few times a week. Yet the one day everyone is busy, he's presented as a pathetic no-life who can't find a way to amuse himself on his own. Then there's Zooey's token single friend, who is, of course, a whiny, desperate Plain Jane (the cool, sexy one is married) and a mini-lesson toward the end about respecting the privacy of interactions within the sanctum of the relationship. These elements combine to proclaim a message that matrimaniacs are losers, but singles are losers, too, that to strike a successful balance, one should find a happy, healthy relationship or at least accept that relationships make the world go round. I'm down with the first half of that thesis but not the second.

In fantasyland, Sydney teaches Peter what he needs to learn without ever succumbing to the vices of stereotypical bachelorhood. But then there wouldn't be a conflict, and as all wannabe screenwriters know, a script without conflict is like a platinum wedding without a bridezilla. Or something. Anyway, it doesn't sell. Though I can't commit my whole heart to I Love You, Man, as the only movie in recent memory to call out matrimaniacs and lampoon intensive coupling, it still has me pretty infatuated.

How important do you think it is for a couple to maintain separate friendships outside their relationship? What can couples do to balance time together and time apart? How do you think bachelors are usually portrayed in Hollywood? Is the Hollywood version of the bachelor at all representative of the single men you know? If you've seen I Love You, Man, what are your thoughts on the movie? Do you think it has a positive or a negative message about singles in general and single men in particular? What does it say to you about matrimania/intensive coupling/enmeshed or codependent relationships? By the end of the movie, do you think Peter and Zooey provide a healthy model for couples or not? Can you recommend any other movies that tackle matrimania?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have an unpublished rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a "Singletude Q&A" or your rant or rave in a "Singletude Sound-off"! Singletude makes every effort to republish submissions in their original form but reserves the right to edit your submission for length and clarity.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thorough and well-written review--I haven't seen the movie but I probably will if given the chance. I would have to disagree about the projectile vomiting scene, though. I saw that in the previews (they cut out just before the vomiting) and I have to say that no movie should ever, ever have a vomiting scene. But that's just me. = )

I like to think that taking down the "you are my everything" myth is harder than taking down the "pathetic single" myth. Also, I believe the latter springs from the former, so if we dissolve the matrimania, the demise of singlism will follow. Therefore, the movie probably does deserve a dose of Singletude kudos.


Clever Elsie said...

Onely: I hope you'll have a chance to see it. I'd definitely like to get Onely's opinion on it! (If you want to avert your eyes during the projectile vomiting, here's a spoiler: It happens during the beer chugging contest.)