Critic at Large: ‘I Love You, Man’ points up differences between male, female bonding

There are times you’d think the main characters in "I Love You, Man" are in love, but no, they are h

I want to talk about the most delightful comedy now playing.

It’s called “I Love You, Man,” and it’s about a bachelor (Paul Rudd) who suddenly feels deprived because he does not have a best friend. This, after he overhears his fiancee and other ladies wonder why he is not like other guys.

Feeling deprived and out of it, he searches for and finally finds a pal he can let loose with. Played by Jason Segel, Sydney Fife is the guy to hang with. Oh, the pleasure when they jam in Sydney’s pad and, oh, the ecstatic joy they share when they hoot and leap together at a Rush concert.

You’d think they are in love, but no, they are hopelessly straight. It’s a kind of romance now coined “bromance” by social observers. It’s virgin territory for movies, and if you want to get downright serious, the movie is a springboard for some heady discussions about the romance and boundaries of straight male friendship.

Some claim it is a phenomenon women can never quite understand, and I swear that I have heard more than a few admissions that, if push comes to shove, many guys would opt for male buddies over the company of their wives.

Shocking declaration

In a class discussion about “Diner,” the quintessential buddy movie, a college senior shocked ladies with the angry declaration that if it weren’t for sex, women would be completely out of it.

“I have a girlfriend and I love her and I think we will get married, but if you want the truth, I have more fun with my friends and I always will.

“It’s something you girls just don’t get and something I will never give up.” In an instant, I got to thinking of one night long ago when some of us poker pals ventured up to Saratoga to enjoy a night at the races. In our company was a great pal we will call Pete, a friend noted for his frugality.

Back then, we rarely raised over a dollar. If that moment arose, Pete bailed. He was the only person I ever met who literally pinched a nickel.

On this night in Saratoga, Pete bet the double and won to a tune of $101.40. If you wonder why I recall this detail, cut to the following morning when, after some midnight reveling, we arrived at our favorite breakfast place.

It was close to dawn when we ordered, and the happiest fellow was Pete. So thrilled was he with his stash that Pete offered to buy all six of us breakfast.

“It’s on me,” he said with his jolly smile.

Now let me tell you that when guys have bonded, an irrational sense of mischief is always in the air, a kind of unspoken urge to push the envelope, be kind of naughty.

That morning, Pete became a target of that mischief, and I can swear that we all initiated it with instinct. It was Tom, the high school business teacher, who initiated the merry escapade.

When Sis, our favorite waitress with the gravelly voice arrived and asked, “What’ll you have tonight, boys?” Tom replied with his customary nonchalance: “I’ll have the sirloin, and by the way, may I have onion rings on the side?”

Pete’s eyes widened. Our usual order was eggs over easy or a stack of pancakes for maybe $2.95. Tom’s order totaled over 11 bucks.

Oh, the twinkle in our eyes as we calmly found the most expensive items on the menu, ordering them before Pete could renege. In less than 10 minutes, we had eradicated his winnings. He could only blink in mock despair.

His only retort: “Gee, guys.”

If you have not already guessed, the unspoken truth behind this gleeful encounter was that finally we had a chance to bust a friend for his penny-pinching cheapness. The act was not cynical or mean or angry, and Pete knew it.

The unspoken truth is that, without saying a word to each other, the moment had arrived for us to deliver the thrust.

Act of love

The most important truth is that we would not have initiated this action had we not loved Pete as a dear friend. Not a man among us would deny Pete if he needed help, financial or otherwise. This was our way to officially remind Pete about his habitual frugality. What a moment. What an act of love.

Now, tell me, dear reader, why, whenever I relate this story to women, do they not appreciate the humor? Why do I state with surety that a group of ladies would never think of teasing a “cheap” friend the way we busted Pete?

For them, a manly act of love and friendship is one of unspeakable cruelty.

I invite you to ponder what this gap says about our respective natures. How do we fit? Can a straight guy be really happy without a straight friend?

Is it simply normal if a straight man loves his friend more than his wife and vice versa? And what may we conclude about a straight man who has no close friends?

So many more questions. You’d think after a zillion centuries, we’d have the definitive answer.

I invite your reactions.

Categories: Life and Arts

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