Saturday, 20 June 2009

I Love You, Man (2009)

Go on, shout it to the world

The quintessential Judd Apatow movie without the involvement of Judd Apatow, I Love You, Man takes Apatow's 'bromantic' twist on classic Hollywood romantic comedy to its exquisite, logical conclusion, while employing Apatow's stable of actors and co-directors and refining his usual tricks of the trade to one-up the genre's creator by a fair bit.

I love you, man is both a traditional romantic comedy and a bromantic comedy at the same time. The wedding plans of the lucky groom to be (Paul Rudd), having gotten past the all-important proposal to the luckier bride to be (Rashida Jones), stutters on the couple's realisation that the groom has a grand total of zero close male friends in his life and needs to race against time to produce a proper best man for the wedding. I don't know why this is even an issue of social embarrassment, but time for misadventures in male bonding, I say!

While in general the bromance movie does not allow the groom to run away with the best man, the shenanigans in this movie come very close to this. Its innovation: trashing out the bromantic genre's vague unease with the homosocial/homosexual ambiguity, along with the but this is-a-macho-movie uncomfortably comic moments where the ambiguity rears its head. Replacing all this is a willingness to acknowledge and explore the homosocial/homosexual ambiguity as part of a feel-good comedy, to build into comfortably comic punchlines.

Here, it is achieved through the 'serial date' structure of the movie and the screen chemistry between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Paul Rudd, of course, is a comic actor who has been playing the feminine coded male stock character since The Object of my Affection, and part of the intertextual comedy comes from just how female coded his "best girlfriend with a dick a girlfriend would want" character here is.

Like Anthony Perkins's character in The Trial, Paul Rudd acts almost so instinctively guilty that some people might be inclined to watch this as a subtle gay comedy.

As a result of the more relaxed, less hung up storytelling attitude of Hamburg and his collaborators, I Love You, Man is the least macho of bromantic comedies to date. Its comedic sensibilities should in fact appeal to a much broader audience than say Superbad: this one goes easy for movie watchers of all genders and persuasions.

An earlier version of this review was published at incinemas on 18 June 2009

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

I see you didn't wash your hands after using the urinal!

Take A Christmas Carol, turn it into a romantic comedy, and you have Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. In this retelling of the well-worn classic (whose adaptations and deformations are as hoary and tired as the classic itself), Matthew McConaughey plays the Scrooge character as a cad and womaniser who humbugs at the idea of Love, and sees his life-long mission to set Olympic records for wooing, bedding, and leaving women in succession. In other words, Matthew McConaughey plays the same annoying character he's been playing in his last 10 or so movie features. Hopefully, the twist in this adaptation is that he DIES.

But this being a romantic comedy, he will end up falling in disgustingly in lurve with his greatest critic and long-term crush, and this being an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, he will reform his ways thanks to ghostly visits from a deceased mentor (played by Michael Douglas) and old associates (this time former girlfriends).

Look, it's not a bad concept and the plot practically writes itself. So you have to wonder what took them so long to get this movie off the ground (production was canned in 2003 after Ben Afleck got axed by studio execs, and revived only last year).

It could be the script – due to the lack of writing talents, the romantic comedy has been in the doldrums for the past decade. The Jon Lucas-Scott Moore team is hardly the epitome of brilliant screenwriting, and it shows in how much they messed up this a no-brainer of a story idea.

There's something very wrong, for instance, with how unbelievably slimy, dislikeable, and off-putting a "Mr Sex On Legs" character turns out to be – for a character who charms women into his trousers, McConaughey's character has zero effective charm in the script. For some reason, Mr Sex On Legs becomes even more creepy and disgusting after his reform, thanks to horrific lines that sound either cheesier and cheaper than his pre-reform cad routine.

Then again, it could be Matthew McConaughey himself, or his legendary lack of chemistry with any female co-stars, or his semi-permanent annoying smirk. After all, Michael Douglas plays his mentor and deceased uncle, and him you can believe charming women into his bed and having them still love him after he's dumped them.

On the whole, this movie has a few genuinely funny lines and gags that are spaced out too far apart between some seriously tedious exposition, and boasts a strong and quirky supporting cast (notably Michael Douglas, and his Fatal Attraction co-star as the mother of the bride) whose efforts are eclipsed by the blandness of the leading actors.

While based on a very interesting and creative twist on the Scrooge tale, this movie ends up making Scrooged look like a revolutionary retelling.

An earlier version of this review was published at incinemas on 11 June 2009