catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 15 :: 2009.07.17 — 2009.07.30


I love you, (well-adjusted) man

There have been some uncomfortably close male duos in the past decade.  Think Turk and J.D. from Scrubs, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Jesse and Chester from Dude, Where’s My Car?, even Ren and Stimpy.  But depictions of close male friendships have reached us in the last year with unparalleled abundance, examining what it means for two men to be deeply intimate without being sexual.  With the appearance of the show Bromance last December, now the term is on everyone’s lips.  I mean, really, what guy doesn’t have a man-crush?

It has been my feeling that Americans are finally coming to grips with the social rewiring we underwent in the 1970s.  Men were increasingly allowed (if not commanded) to be intimate, sensitive, social, emotional, self-aware, even spiritual.  Now, after some initial knee-jerk reactions to it (Rambos and Reagans and Hefners), men are settling into the idea.  Truly, we can be close to our dude-friends, and comfortable with that closeness.  Kind of.

It was with some hope and interest that I went to see the movie I Love You, Man.  The basic plot seems predictable — a sensitive guy gets engaged, is disrespected for not having close male friends, tries to fraternize, ends up attracting homosexuals, finally meets a wild hetero friend who initiates him into the wilder side of manhood, triggering a conflict of intimacy between fiancé and fiancée, which is then resolved into a happy wedding.  Ho hum. 

But I found the quirky conversations between Peter (Paul Rudd) and Sydney (Jason Segel) hilarious and, in their own way, believable.  The greatest tension occurs between male and male, not between male and female. 

Peter is utterly civil, but can’t seem to figure out the guy-code (think a self-conscious Michael from The Office); Sydney is the consummate man’s man, but can’t seem to navigate the waters of polite society.  The two men bond over beer, the band Rush and painful disclosures about emotional and sexual discontent.  All of a sudden, nothing is taboo or occluded.  They can open up about anything, an intimacy that ends up jeopardizing Peter’s engagement.

I was delighted to see the kind of honesty between Peter and Zooey (his fiancée, played by Rashida Jones) sparked by the bromance.  Zooey feels threatened by Sydney’s antics, and even more by the kind of emotional energy he is diverting from the couple’s pending marriage.  A guy is supposed to have male friends, apparently, but not close friends.  Besides, isn’t a man supposed to open up to a woman?  Isn’t a man supposed to be emotionally dependent and emotionally fixed on her?  The double-edged sword of bromance appears.   Maybe women like the old man after all.  But it was refreshing to see Peter and Zooey work through their complex tangle of neediness, isolation and co-dependence like real adults.

What makes the movie work in the end is Jason Segel.  His role as Sydney has to carry the full weight of laudable man culture.  He’s strong and sensitive, pointed but disarming, aggressive but apathetic, bigger than life — but in the end just an okay-looking dude with an electric guitar.  He alternates between macho man and soft-hearted bohemian so fast that you can’t help but admire the man, or at least be transfixed by him.  This furious kind of dialectic is what drives the new, well-adjusted man.  I was interested to discover, in an interview with People magazine, Segel chalks his charm up to being a socialite at heart.  But an anti-social edge is what catalyzes his splendid manly alchemy: “Somehow I was born without a sense of shame.  A lot of things that most normal people would be embarrassed to do, I just have no problem doing whatsoever.”  A man worthy of bromance indeed.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus