Two films opening today are romantic comedies of sorts: I Love You, Man focuses on "bromance" and Duplicity is a screwball comedy-like spy thriller. Frankly, we couldn't decide which was more deserving of our $10.
In I Love You, Man, directed by John Hamburg, Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) gets engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones) and realizes that he has no close male friends who could serve as his best man. After going on a series of "man-dates" with potential guy friends, he meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and they hit it off. But soon Peter's newfound man-love begins to threaten his relationship with Zooey and comedy ensues.
Duplicity is about two former spies, Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and Ray Koval (Clive Owen) who have been hired by rival pharmaseudical companies to find the secret formula to a mysterious skin cream that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first. The movie skips between the present day and the pair's previous rendez-vous as they scheme against each other and of course, begin falling in love.
Critics generally praised both films, especially the performances of lead actors. The choice probably comes down to whether you're in the mood for watching Paul Rudd in a predictable but hilarious comedy, or following the more adult dynamics of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen despite an almost too-confusing plot. To help with this conundrum, we've compiled reviews for both films below, first for I Love You, Man and then Duplicity.
I LOVE YOU, MAN
New York Magazine
I Love You, Man is totally formulaic, but the formula is unnervingly (and hilariously) inside out. The typical Judd Apatow modern sex-comedy hero is supposed to forswear the world of drugs and self-pleasuring and inane teen fixations, not embrace them in the name of self-improvement. The buddy is supposed to buck up the man to help him get the girl; the girl isn't supposed to buck up the man to help him get the buddy. In screwball comedies, overly cerebral, "de-bodyized" men are forced to loosen up by free-spirited women, not men whose apartments have a special sacred chair for jerking off in. I Love You, Man is a howl, but maybe it's better not to think about it too hard.
Peter is that rare creature in American cinema: a man who genuinely likes and respects women. It's the job of Sydney, who lives in a self-described man-cave with a steady supply of pot, pornography and post-adolescent playthings, to make Peter into a "real" man, i.e., a creature entirely without conscience or consideration for others. Thankfully, director and co-writer John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) keeps I Love You, Man on the light side, thanks in large part to Rudd's genuine warmth and humanity, and some refreshing touches that make the movie something more than just another snickering celebration of all things testosterone-tinged. For one thing, the girl isn't made out to be the humorless harridan of so many Apatow movies of yore (think of the Rudd character's bitter half in Knocked Up, played by Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann). Jones's Zooey is smart and successful and doesn't punish her man for indulging his inner guy; if anything she encourages it, until Sydney's rebel nature veers into a more troubling violation of boundaries.
The women here are secondary characters, and they're exaggerated — perhaps too much so — just to score comic points. They squeal and squeak at one another as they leak all kinds of secrets that ought to be private: "He goes down on you, like, six times a week!" one of them says when she learns of Peter and Zooey's engagement. (She doesn't know she's on speakerphone and Peter can hear the whole thing.) But Hamburg isn't out to make women the villains — they're hardly even the mysterious "other," because Pete gets them so much better than he understands his fellow guys. This role is perfect for Rudd, a terrific if often underappreciated actor, and he's the movie's killer not-so-secret weapon. Rudd's timing has always been good, but in I Love You, Man he gives the finest performance of his career, breaking his comic beats down into weird and wonderful fractional increments. It's as if he's invented a new comedy dialect.
Mr. Rudd, a slack screen presence who owns the patent on male adorableness and is charming to watch, even if all he can do are variations on a theme: adorable embarrassment, adorable goofiness, adorable sexiness. He's the ultimate in nonthreatening masculinity (Seth Rogan seems macho by comparison), the male equivalent of one of those plush animals girls and even some women like to keep piled high on their beds. Given that he's more of a character actor than leading man, he's perfectly cast in the "girl" role.
If watching Peter work his hardest to grasp the mysterious dynamics of male relationships is half the fun of I Love You, Man, the other half is watching Sydney give him a crash course in machismo that helps draw Peter out of his shell. As a result, the humor in I Love You, Man is more of the character-driven variety than the barrage of raunchy gags that have become a staple of the Apatow productions. That's not to say that the film doesn't have its fair share of unexpected, gut-punch laughs — it does — only that those moments are less frequent and more carefully dispersed than most audiences may expect. It's more Pineapple Express than Walk Hard or Step Brothers, and anyone looking for the kind of exaggerated, absurd laughs on display in the latter two films may be caught off guard by I Love You, Man's gentle, genuinely affectionate charm.
Yes, Duplicity features more than its share of spy-movie tropes: There's plenty of gobbledygook about computer hacking, chemical formulas and bugged photocopiers. But, happily, no one in the film gets punched, shot, strangled or beaten to death with a book.
If what thrills you is the swift-moving, unrelenting contest between equal and opposing forces, then the movies you seek out are surely the great romantic comedies of the studio era, verbal boxing matches that draw blood and end in kisses. And you have to go back that far - to the glory days of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, let's say - to find a duel of sharp wits, hidden agendas and simmering desires as satisfying as what transpires between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.
Along the way, Mr. Owen, on whom a two-piece suit becomes as brazenly sexual a uniform as anything you can imagine, opens many bottles of Champagne and looks hungrily at Ms. Roberts, even though Claire is more of a natural predator than Ray. For this film, her first real starring role in quite a while, Ms. Roberts has almost entirely left behind the coltish, America's-sweetheart mannerisms, except when she uses them strategically, to disarm or confuse. Curvier than she used to be and with a touch of weariness around her eyes and impatience in her voice, she is, at 41, umistakably in her prime.
Shouldn't even a film constructed around a labyrinthine espionage plot have to make actual narrative sense?... But is it too much to ask that a spy movie unravel its secrets, at least the explicitly plot-bound ones, on a single viewing? ... There are so many leaps back and forth in time, so many twists and countertwists and double fake-outs, that we keep losing track of who (including ourselves) is supposed to know what when. There's a kind of pleasure in this repeated experience of bewilderment, but it's a pleasure predicated on the assumption that all the puzzle pieces will click together in the end. Duplicity does end with a whopper of a twist, but it's not clear how that revelation affects everything that came before. The conversation on the way home from a movie like this should consist of triumphant "aha!"s, not bumbling "wha?"s.
To give Duplicity its due — and plenty is deserved — Tony Gilroy's romantic caper goes against the Hollywood grain by smartening itself up instead of dumbing itself down ... Yet another question intrudes: Why does figuring out the puzzle come to feel a lot like work? Because Duplicity is betrayed by a surfeit of intricacy. Its ironic complexities tease the brain without pleasing the heart.
If only the script's Chinese puzzle quality were subordinated to the exploration of character - in this case, two characters, a pair of government agents turned corporate spies, played by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. But despite the considerable laying on of charm by both stars, they can't make their respective characters into objects of fascination. They remain rudimentary constructs. Their dialogue sounds like something out of a script, and their relationship holds no interest, except for the easily exhaustible fun of thinking, "Oh, yeah, there's Clive Owen. Oh, yeah, there's Julia Roberts. Yes, indeed, and don't they look nice together."