'Bromance' Flix and the State of Dudedom.
Directed by John Hamburg Dreamworks SKG
Directed by Judd Apatow Universal
Directed by Todd Phillips Warner Brothers
"I HATE THIS. There are no rules for male friendships." So complains Peter, the friendless protagonist of I Love You, Man, just one of the latest additions to that ever-expanding genre in popular cinema known as the "bromantic comedy." Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh notes that unlike the traditional buddy film, the bromance "shows us that straight guys, even without the aid of a high-speed car chase, can bond almost as strongly as heterosexual lovebirds" (6/8/09).
I Love You, Man takes its title from that supposedly platonic declaration, delivered from one straight guy to another, usually induced by beer and bear hugs. The film's premise is a preposterous one: Peter Klaven (played by Paul Rudd) is engaged to Zooey, but having not a friend in the world, must set out in search of a best man. His gay brother Robbie (played by Saturday Night Live's Adam Samburg) could have been a contender, but is oddly overlooked in Peter's search. Either way, Robbie schools him, informing Peter that straight men can meet for a "mandate" (either a casual lunch or after-work drinks), but never for dinner out. Breaking this rule, Peter finds himself "out" in a different way--unwittingly on a gay date and blind-sided by a man-kiss. Sexual nonconformity is so naturalized in this film, so interwoven with the fabric of social relations, that the typical Klaven family dinner includes the father proclaiming, "My son is a gay man and I embrace his lifestyle," and Robbie agreeing: "It's true. Dad loves the gays. I actually made him an honorary homo last month."
Comedy-king Judd Apatow is no "honorary homo," but he is, hands down, the godfather of the bromance. In his 2005 hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it was Rudd himself who jested with Seth Rogan about what is and isn't gay. Apatow's world is one in which people are astonishingly frank about sex yet unsure of where straightness stops and gay-ness begins. In Superbad, which he produced in 2007, Jonah Hill's character confesses to a pubescent preoccupation with drawing penises, to which his friend retorts: "That's super-gay." The latest from Apatow is Funny People, which stars Adam Sandler as George, a terminally ill movie star, and Seth Rogan as Ira, a joke writer hired to bring him back to life and laughter. The phallocentric gag may be Apatow's trademark, but what are we to make of George's repeated demands to see his friend's penis? Equally inexplicable is the film's ending, which arrives after the two finally reconcile: we see this odd couple in the final frame seated alone and laughing together as the credits roll.
At the bottom of the bromantic barrel there lies The Hangover, in which a men's-only club is again brought about by a wedding ceremony. Here it's not the best man but the groom who's missing. Bachelor party members Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a Las Vegas suite with unexpected company--a chicken, a stripper's toddler in a closet, and a Bengal tiger in the bathroom--but the groom himself is not among them. With the exception of scene-stealer Zach Galifianakis as the offbeat Alan, there are few funny people in The Hangover, and the script does little to push back the boundaries between love and friendship in any thoughtful way. Instead, Stu is known as "Dr. Faggot" and the guys recoil childishly at the casino's front desk when they're told they may have to share beds. Only Alan resists the herd mentality when he's ridiculed for proudly donning a "man-purse," which, he insists, is really a "satchel," adding that "Indiana Jones wore one."
Classics scholar David Halperin observed in One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1990) that "friendship is the anomalous relation" which exists "outside the more thoroughly codified social networks formed by kinship and sexual ties; it is more free-floating, more in need of 'labeling.'" The potential danger of labeling this newfound genre "bromance" is that it denies the definitional no-man's land in which these stories unfold. Knowing another man in any capacity, these comedies suggest, entails certain unspoken rules. And while each film is too puerile to be poignant, they still help to confuse friendship and sexual ties and expect us to laugh along. Whether or not this works in Humpday (2009)--an independent film in which college friends are dared to consummate their loveer, friendship, on film as part of an amateur porn project--remains to be seen. Without spoiling the surprise, it's safe to say that Humpday and its companions are redefining friendship onscreen at the precise time in American history when other political and cultural developments are redefining marriage. Could this be Hollywood's very own form of foreplay, of breaking the rules of friendship before tackling those associated with love and marriage and finally going all the way?
Colin Carman, PhD, teaches English Literature at Santa Barbara City College in California.
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|Title Annotation:||I Love You, Man; The Hangover|
|Publication:||The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide|
|Article Type:||Movie review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
|Next Article:||March-April 2010: "where are we now?".|