In I Love You, Man, which is by far the best Judd Apatow comedy that Judd Apatow had nothing at all to do with, Paul Rudd gives a startlingly funny and original performance as a nice guy with serious dweebish tendencies, and the delight of what Rudd does here comes down to how exquisitely embarrassing he is to watch. He makes you wince in hilarity. Rudd, in films like Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, has been a wiseass par excellence, and maybe it took a wiseass to play a dork with this much merciless understanding. His Peter Klaven is an L.A. real estate agent (he's selling Lou Ferrigno's mansion) who has just gotten engaged, an event that forces him to confront the fact that he has no male friends. Who will be his groomsmen? His best man?
That sounds like a fairly mild predicament to hang a movie on, but the resonant joke of I Love You, Man is that the reason Peter has no pals is that he's too sweetly sincere, too in touch with his sensitive side, to indulge in the gloriously insensitive modes of male bonding: the reckless sex chatter and sports talk, the need to be a guy, a dude. Peter meets Sydney (Jason Segel), who seems like natural buddy material, and the two begin to hang out. But the more Peter tries to get down with his masculine self, the more our jaws drop at how bad he is at it. He does agonizingly out-of-date SNL routines as if they signified he was ''in the know,'' he says things like ''me slappa da bass'' in a ''reggae'' accent, and when his new friend nicknames him Pistol, he names him back and sounds like a complete idiot jackass.
Rudd shows us the awful eagerness to please that drives Peter's strenuous attempt to fit in. He's as mesmerizingly pathetic as Austin Powers, only Peter is a dork you can believe in. The more your face turns red for him, the more you root for him. That's what makes Paul Rudd a star. I Love You, Man is a guy-meets-guy ''romantic'' comedy, and it's part of the film's merry topical wink at how men have been changed by girl-power culture that Peter has no trouble relating to women, but to relate to men he must first figure out how to be one. And he does: by jamming with Sydney to songs by Rush (who they think is the best band in history—talk about masculine delusions!). I Love You, Man is on the side of all things rude, raunchy, and guyish, but only because it recognizes that the freedom to be a lout is a pillar of our civilization. And that more than ever, it's a freedom you have to earn. A