In "I Love You, Man," the new comedy from writer/director John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly," co-writer of "Meet the Parents," "Meet the Fockers," "Zoolander"), Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a successful real estate agent who, upon getting engaged to the woman of his dreams, Zooey, (Rashida Jones), discovers to his dismay that he has no male friend close enough to serve as his Best Man. Peter immediately embarks on a series of bizarre and awkward "man-dates" to find such a friend, before meeting Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a fun-loving, charismatic man - just Peter's opposite - with whom he instantly bonds. But the closer the two men get, the more Peter's relationship with Zooey suffers, ultimately forcing him to choose between his fiancée and his newfound "bro," in a story that comically explores what's at the core of male friendship and what it truly means to be a friend.
"I LOVE YOU, MAN": ORIGINS
"I guess I don't have any close male friends. . . I'm very happy. It's not like this is something I've been missing. . ." -Peter Klaven
Romantic comedies often share the same basic construct: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. John Hamburg's "I Love You, Man" turns that classic approach on its head - it's a "bromantic" comedy that takes a look at friendship between two guys - in this case, two men who are complete opposites.
After proposing to his girlfriend, Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones), Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), a successful young L.A. real estate agent, realizes that, unlike his fiancée, who immediately calls her closest friends to share the news, he has no close buds - in fact, he has no male friends at all. After years of being a "girlfriend guy" focused on romantic relationships, Peter learns that his lack of male friendship worries Zooey, so he embarks on a hurried quest to make a male friend who can serve as Best Man at his wedding. Under the guidance of his brother, Robbie (Andy Samberg), a personal trainer who is gay and seems to know a thing or two about guys, Peter embarks on a series of disastrous "man-dates" and, quite by accident, crosses paths with Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a charismatic bachelor who cruises open-houses for free food and lonely divorcées. Peter is intrigued with Sydney, and the two men embark on a friendship that teaches Peter something he's never experienced, the true meaning of male bonding, but also threatens his relationship with Zooey, forcing him to make some difficult choices.
"I Love You, Man" began its life as a spec script by Larry Levin ("Dr. Dolittle") entitled "Let's Make Friends," which grabbed the immediate attention of producer Donald De Line. "It had a basic, classic romantic comedy structure, but with a twist - it was about how a man in his 30s finds a new best friend. There hadn't been a movie about male friendship or a comedy that explored men's problems with intimacy. So I said 'Done.'"
The project soon came to the attention of John Hamburg ("Meet the Parents," "Along Came Polly"), who was busy juggling numerous projects, both as writer and director. "Every so often, we would talk on the phone, and John would say, 'What's going on with 'Let's Make Friends?' I'd say, 'It's here - c'mon, jump in,' and then he'd go off and do something else," De Line recalls.
But the producer continued his quest to bring Hamburg aboard, knowing he was perfectly suited for the project. "John's a brilliant comedy writer and director. Everything he writes is imbued with a certain intelligence and sophistication. He knows how to make movies that translate on a level that appeals to everyone and he's always able to tap into something we can all relate to."
Executive producer Andrew Haas concurs. "'I Love You, Man' was the perfect match for John's sensibilities because he has such a firm understanding of the human experience. He knows how people relate to each other, but he's also an incredibly funny guy, so he's always able to infuse a sense of realistic humor into his work."
De Line was confident that once Hamburg committed he'd be able to marry his organic, naturalistic style of comedy with a knack for fashioning audience-friendly characters. "What John brings to this project is character detail and an emotional truth that's at the core of everything he's done, no matter how absurd or 'out there' the premise may at first appear. With John, you comfortably slip into the main character's shoes and recognize feelings and situations that you yourself may have experienced. That kind of approach to comedy is what sets John apart."
So, more than five years after first reading "Let's Make Friends," Hamburg found himself thinking again about the premise laid out in that script, and soon came up with his own take on the story of a man without any close male friends, who goes on a quest to find a Best Man before his wedding, calling his version of the screenplay, "I Love You, Man."
He and De Line then brought the project to Dreamworks. "It was a theme that spoke to me that I thought I could have fun with, that I could lend some comic insight to," Hamburg says. "And I always knew I wanted to direct it."
"I LOVE YOU, MAN": THE PRODUCTION
"If you see a cool-looking guy, strike up a conversation. Ask him on a man-date. By that, I mean a casual lunch or after-work drink. No dinner and no movies. You're not taking these boys to see 'The Devil Wears Prada,' understand." - Robbie (Andy Samberg)
Shot entirely in Los Angeles, "I Love You, Man" shows the city in a way rare for Hollywood films. "Growing up in Manhattan, I always had a fascination with Los Angeles," explains John Hamburg. "I spent a lot of time in L.A. working, so I think I had a romanticized view of it, which is why I really wanted to set the movie here, to explore what's underneath."
As sprawling as the city is, L.A. can sometimes be a hard place to develop one's "inner circle" - making it the perfect location for this movie's premise. "When you're searching for friends and community, Los Angeles has all these pockets but no center and it can feel quite lonely without any friends," notes Hamburg.
The director also wanted to portray the city as a fun character in his story. "John really wanted the character of the city to come through in a way that you normally wouldn't see in a comedy," explains producer De Line. "People have shot really interesting films in Los Angeles, usually of a more dramatic nature, that show interesting aspects of the city. But a comedic approach to that is a really fresh and groundbreaking thing."
One aspect Hamburg wanted to incorporate into the story was to show that where you live in the sprawling metropolis can define who you are and make it harder to break out of your mold. "There are many different aspects and parts of L.A.; Peter Klaven lives on the east side, while Sydney lives way out west in Venice, which feels like a beach town," comments Hamburg. "Even though you're both living in the same city, if you choose to live in Venice, you're probably a different sort of person than someone who chooses to live an hour away from the ocean."
Observes production designer Andrew Laws, "With Venice, you don't quite know what you're getting. Putting Sydney in Venice adds a lot of texture to who he is."
While in other films, Venice has often been portrayed as a haven for kooks and drug dealers, Hamburg sought to show another facet of this relaxed and somewhat eccentric enclave. "The extras we used were some of the freakiest of the freakos," says Jason Segel, "but they were behaving realistically - like they were on the Venice boardwalk on a normal Tuesday afternoon."
One of Sydney's favorite daily activities is walking his Puggle (a mix of a Pug and a Beagle) on the Venice boardwalk, where some of the other dog owners - who Sydney calls "bowsers" - also walk their dogs. "A bowser is a term Sydney Fife invented for someone who looks like their dog," explains co-producer Anders Bard.
The search for such dog/owner combinations was an extensive process. "Our extras casting group put out flyers and about 250 people showed up with their dogs. We had people who arrived dressed like their dogs or with the exact same haircut, which I found really interesting in a weird, creepy sort of way."
The Venice boardwalk is also where Sydney has a physical altercation with Lou Ferrigno and ends up in a choke hold. "The choke hold is actually very effective," says Ferrigno. "Done correctly, it can close off the main artery in a person's neck and decrease the blood supply. It actually knocks you out for a couple of minutes."
Of course, on film, the move only had to look effective, so a stunt coordinator showed the muscle man how to execute the move on Segel without hurting him. "It was a pleasure to learn, from an expert like that, how to make it both safe and believable because, in real life, it's a very dangerous hold."
Since the fight between Ferrigno and Segel was shot on the Venice boardwalk at midday, onlookers and paparazzi crowded the streets to watch. "Shooting that scene was a bit like being Angelina Jolie in Cannes," explains Rudd. "I'm trying to react to Lou Ferrigno putting my friend Sydney in a sleeper hold and all I can hear are cameras behind me snapping pictures. Weird."
While he's apparently got plenty of money, Sydney lives in a modest bungalow near the beach and spends most of his quality time in his "man cave" - a converted garage/fantasy room behind his house where boys can be boys and indulge in all things male. "The man cave is a place for guys to escape, and there's something very appealing about it," explains Rudd. "When you're a kid, you find a bit of an escape in your bedroom, but when you're older and married, though you may have an office or den, it's just not the same. When you're in a man cave, you feel like a 10 year-old boy again."
"The man cave is the ultimate men's leisure center," observes Segel. The room is filled with comfy couches, three TVs, books, CDs, DVDs, a top-notch sound system, and a bevy of musical instruments for impromptu jam sessions.
Laws' design for the man cave is layered with detail, realistic touches that reflect Sydney's personality. "He's got a new TV and an old Sony Trinitron next to each other," notes Hamburg. "And there's a wall of photos - a lot of dudes - his wrecking crew."
Laws notes, "John and I talked about it - it had to have just typical male stuff. Even the books on the shelves are very particular books, maybe not the things you would necessarily expect this guy to be reading. They tell you a little more about who Sydney might be."
So is the real-life Sydney - Jason Segel - anything like his character? "I live with my best friend from when I was 13 years old, which is pretty awesome," the actor reveals.
Says Rudd: "Jason's house, I believe, used to be a club with different levels," says Rudd.
"I actually think it still is a fully functioning disco," notes Hamburg, adding, "Some stories of his Saturday nights are better left private."
Before meeting Sydney, Peter goes on a number of bizarre - and very funny - "man dates" in hopes of meeting a new best friend. "He's never had a best friend, so he doesn't know what it feels like," says Rashida Jones. "So he's kind of looking in all the wrong places."
Peter embarks on a "man-date" to an L.A. Galaxy soccer game with Lonnie, a client of Robbie's who has been promised free personal training sessions in return. Things quickly turn sour when Lonnie, who has an unusually high-pitched voice that grates on even the most patient of people, loudly chants and heckles the players throughout the game. Things go from bad to worse when a fight breaks out between Lonnie (played by comic actor Joe Lo Truglio) and other fans and Peter gets caught in the middle.
To shoot the Galaxy game scene, the filmmakers reserved a small section of the arena at an actual game and shot the entire scene over the span of the game. Shooting within a prescribed period of time surrounded by 30,000 game watchers who were unaware of what was going on proved to be a challenging experience.
"There's something to be said for the energy a scene gets when you only have a limited amount of time to film it and while the fans are looking at you but not really aware of what is going on," says Hamburg. "Paul was trying to keep calm while Joe was screaming and sweating and fights were breaking out all around him. It was quite an exhilarating way to shoot amidst all this mayhem - and a great deal of fun besides."
During visits to Sydney's man cave, Peter and his friend discover that they have one passion in common: the iconic rock trio Rush. "I was thinking of a band that these two guys might bond over, one not everyone else would be a fan of. And if you love Rush, you really love them," says the director. "A lot of these stories come from my own experiences. I was a big fan of Rush as a kid and still am. I knew they had a lot of songs that would be really fun to put into the movie."
The two spend a lot of time playing music together, but things really start to become serious when they attend a Rush concert. The filmmakers were overjoyed when the group agreed to appear in the movie, making their feature film debut. The concert was filmed at Avalon Hollywood (the historic former Palace Theater) on a one-day break from their 2008 tour. "That night was such a surreal experience," says executive producer Andrew Haas. "It was midway through production, after some long days, and we had a concert hall packed full of Rush fans. I don't know if you know Rush fans, but the energy was just electric and it gave us the fuel to power on."
"The members of Rush were really great to work with," says Hamburg. "It was quite a joyous night of filming and they were really cool and gave us everything we needed."
"I Love You, Man" treats a real-life situation - the challenge for men to make new friends as adults - with a combination of sensitivity and outlandish humor. "This movie will appeal to everybody," observes Jason Segel. "It's got some of the raunchiness that you look for in a dude movie, but also has the sensitivity you look for in a romantic comedy. If you take a girl, she just might say, 'You know what, you picked a very sensitive film. That says a lot about you.' It's a win-win for everyone."
"John is so insightful and talented and I felt like we really clicked," notes Rudd. "I think his ability to capture comedy is really strong, and I know it'll be funny. It has the potential to be a really engaging story with characters that both men and women will like and relate to."
"'I Love You, Man' explores the challenges and difficulties related to forming and maintaining adult relationships, especially male," says Hamburg. "What we're trying to do with this movie is bring something up that exists beneath the surface, which is the challenge of making friends as an adult. I think it's hopefully shining a light on something that exists, and maybe guys will be more open to going to the movies together, sharing a box of popcorn and just hanging out."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
John Hamburg (Director/Screenplay/Producer) was born and raised in New York City, and began making short films while still in high school. He continued creating films while attending Brown University, where he also studied playwriting and, later, at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. While at Tisch, he wrote and directed the short film "Tick," which debuted at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.
In 1998, he returned to Sundance with his feature-length debut "Safe Men," a comedy he wrote and directed. Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Mark Ruffalo and Harvey Fierstein, Hamburg's film about safe-crackers and song-writers in Providence, Rhode Island has garnered a strong cult following in the years since its Sundance premiere.
He next co-wrote the screenplays for the popular comedies "Meet the Parents" starring frequent collaborator Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner and Terri Polo and "Zoolander" starring Stiller and Owen Wilson. Hamburg also directed several episodes of the critically acclaimed television series "Undeclared."
Hamburg next wrote and directed the hit comedy "Along Came Polly" starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and co-wrote the successful sequel "Meet the Fockers" starring Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, both for Universal Pictures.
Larry Levin (Screenplay/Story) co-wrote (with Nat Mauldin) the screenplay for "Dr. Dolittle" and then wrote "Doctor Dolittle 2."
Levin created and executive-produced the critically acclaimed television series "Bakersfield P.D," which aired on FOX and, most recently, on Bravo as part of the "Brilliant, but Cancelled" series; the series "If Not For You" starring Elizabeth McGovern and Hank Azaria; and "Arresting Behavior." Levin co-wrote (with Larry David) the landmark episode of "Seinfeld" entitled "The Boyfriend," which TV Guide called "one of the greatest episodes in TV history." Levin was also a writer on the comedy series "It's Garry Shandling's Show."
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THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING