It’s 6 PM. I think. My cell phone battery died hours ago, but the way the sun is playing peek-a-boo over Jason Segel’s bobbing shoulder, I know there ain’t a whole lot of day left. Though my sunburned scalp, face, neck and arms are pleased with this development (we – i.e. the honored and invited online press – have been mulling about the Hollywood Center Studios’ premises under a cloudless sky since 10 AM), the lazy glare is making it difficult to assess the gaudy design of Segel’s button-down… shirt, I suppose. There’s a lot of color splattered across that fucker. As I begin humming “Conquistador” by Procol Harum, Paul Rudd and Andy Samberg drop by to submit their critique.
“Hey, Segel,” cracks Rudd. “Eric Carmen called. He wants his shirt back.”
Segel’s been here before. “I’m way too young to understand that reference.”
Now, it’s Samberg’s turn. “Hey Segel! I bet you smell like potpourri.”
There’s an awkward pause. That wasn’t funny. But it feels like that intentional kind of unfunny that’s actually very funny in a meta sense (i.e. it’d be right at home in one of Samberg’s SNL Digital Shorts). I like Samberg, and I think he’s almost cool with me because, earlier in the day, I expressed an unironic affection for Hot Rod. But everything Samberg’s done today – which includes interrupting most of our interviews – has been “in quotes”, so it’s possible that he hates my guts and would kill me if murder was legal in the state of California. This dynamic troubles me more than it should.
Samberg persists with the shirt. “Is that yours or wardrobe?”
“Wardrobe,” says Segel.
“Yes!,” fist-pumps Samberg. Finally, Statler and Waldorf are shooed away, and Segel begins to give us what we want (which, coincidentally, includes thumbnailing his plans for a Muppet movie). Five minutes later, Samberg’s back.
“Jason, when you were over at my house, you yawned, and the wallpaper curled.”
“Nice,” replies Segel.
“That took me, like, fifteen minutes!” boasts Samberg. Guess the potpourri crack bothered him after all.
Most set visits smell vaguely of bullshit. It gets so you don’t hate yourself for documenting it. What you do mind, however, are the lulls – particularly when the do-nothing is compounded by the get-nothing. Days become black holes of inactivity when you show up for, say, Tom Hanks and leave with fifty minutes of Arliss Howard. Actually, scratch that; I like Arliss Howard. Let’s go with “fifteen minutes of Lucas Black and no lunch”. That’s just unconscionable.
Some set visits, however, get awesome right away. Sometimes, you stroll onto the set of a seemeingly banal romantic comedy only to find yourself talking to Lou Ferrigno (who wants desperately to appear on Dancing with the Stars). Sometimes, life isn’t shit.
This randomness seems highly out of character for Along Came Polly writer-director John Hamburg until you remember he’s tight with the fellas from The State. As someone who was less than charmed by his homogenized Stiller-Aniston romcom, it’s helpful to keep this in mind. Also worth recalling: Hamburg’s debut feature Safe Men, which builds to the greatest bar mitzvah sequence in the history of cinema (I have no idea what it supplanted; Yentl, perhaps). There’s cause for benefit of the doubt here; much as I loathe it, you can absolutely get away with Along Came Polly if you cash in that box office clout for a heapin’ helpin’ of Ferrigno.
So here we are, recorders out and smiles abundant as The Incredible Hulk praises Hamburg for “banging the max out of everyone”. Suddenly, this film has greatness tatooed all over its ass.
What is John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man? We clobber you with a surfeit of movie news ’round these parts, so you’re forgiven if you don’t recall this innocuous item from last December. Since I was fairly long-winded in breaking down the exceedingly simple premise, let’s leave the plot summarizin’ to ye olde IMDb:
Syriana, this is not. But when “newly engaged guy” and “Best Man” are, respectively, Rudd and Segel, there’s no need to get convoluted; just set the ball on the tee and let the boys take their cuts. Two hours later, everyone goes home sated.
But wait! There is something of a twist to this scenario: Rudd’s character is auditioning best men because he has no guy friends. According to Rudd, “[My character has] always been kind of a girlfriend guy. Not that I’m particularly weird or anything; it’s just that I’ve always been in long relationships, and now that I’m kind of in my mid-thirties.”
So how does his bride-to-be, portrayed by the ineffable Ms. Rashida Jones, handle this? “You know,” says Rudd, “she calls all of her friends that are going to be bridesmaids, and I’m not calling anybody to tell them the news. I don’t really have any close friends that I would share this news with. So she says, ‘Why not?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, I guess I just kind of put all of my energy into my relationships.’ I never thought I was missing anything. So then I have to try [to find guy friends] because I think she’s weirded out by it.”
This hastens a series of “man dates” orchestrated in part by Rudd’s gay brother, played by Samberg (hey, why can’t he be the best man?). There are misadventures (including a nightmarish trip to a Los Angeles Galaxy game with a rowdy, unnaturally high-voiced nutjob played by Joe Lo Truglio), but Rudd finally finds a semi-suitable match in Segel, who describes his character as “A continental kind of guy. He’s fifty-percent Russell Brand and fifty-percent my brother. He’s slightly effeminate, but also a real raging womanizer. I give my mojo to cougars, to recently divorced women, in this movie because I figure all they’re looking for is sex, and I don’t want anything more. It’s a perfect arrangement.”
The men apparently bond over their shared love for the Canadian prog rock trio Rush, who also have a cameo in this movie. This revelation provoked the following exchange with Rudd, which must be reprinted in its deadpanned near-entirety:
Q: Are you a fan of Rush?
Rudd: I do like Rush. When I was a kid they scared me a little bit because I saw the video of “Tom Sawyer”, and Geddy Lee just had his hair hanging down. There were certain guys like Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick also that I was just kind of freaked out by them.
Q: I was scared by “REO Speedwagon”, that dude with the big fro.
Rudd: Kevin Cronin.
Q: Yeah, he always scared me.
Rudd: Yeah, and now he’s got like short, gray hair.
Q: Yes he does.
Rudd: Kind of frightening, like a young Tom Skerritt.
Q: Who was horrifying.
Rudd: He puts the “Scare” in “Skerritt”. (There is laughter.) Yeah, there were those musicians that really rattled me, and then “Tom Sawyer”… I was like “Why is it called “Tom Sawyer”? It just sounds so dark and evil!” And then I got a little older, and then I kind of went through this phase where I bought Moving Pictures… and then I was like “‘Red Barchetta”, that’s where it’s at’!”* I went through a little Rush phase, and then I got totally, of course, kind of into them years ago. Kind of like “The Spirit of Radio”… I would play it in my car really loud. So I was really nervous to meet them anyway.
Q: Did you have scenes with them, or are they just playing on stage?
Rudd: No, they’re in the movie, and we didn’t have any scenes where I engaged with them. I was just a fan dancing in the show. But I got to meet them. Jason and I actually interviewed them, and I was nervous and like, “How do you interview Rush?” They seem also to be really a band that has shied away. They’ve really lived the words of “Limelight”: Living in the limelight, it’s surreal and they can’t pretend that a stranger is a long waited friend. I just kept thinking that when I was trying to buddy up to them. But they were very funny and very friendly. And big fans of Team America… They’re really funny guys. They were very nice. I don’t know how the topic of South Park and Team America came up. “Team America!” They all went crazy, and started talking and quoting it, and it was just really weird to be exchanging Team America quotes with Neil Peart.
This pays off in the closing wedding sequence where Rudd and Segel rock out to “Limelight” with OK Go. This was the scene we observed during our brief time on the actual set of the movie (well, that, and a performance of “Who Do You Love?”, which quickly becomes an ode to Lou Ferrigno), and while it was amusing to watch the fellas jam to a backing track, I was more impressed with Segel, in-between takes, discussing the brilliant bold-underlining of the “Marvin Berry” scene from Back to the Future. It just seemed like a gag begging to be roughly shoehorned into the film.
Q: Andy says he was really excited to hear that you were approached for the role. Did you know that he was a big fan of yours?
J.K. Simmons: I just assume that he’s a big fan of mine.
This is fair.
It’s also worth pointing out that Samberg did not interrupt our time with Simmons, who plays his father (and Rudd’s) in I Love You, Man. Attention is useless if the procuring of it leads to your death by profane excoriation.
For those of you who have no interest in what it’s like to act for Joel and Ethan Coen, please skip to the next series of asterisks. I don’t care if this is unrelated to Hamburg’s film, I ain’t lettin’ this shit go to waste:
Q: There’s definitely free reign to riff [on I Love You, Man], which is markedly different from a Coen Brother’s film.
Simmons: Couldn’t be more different. [On Burn After Reading], I literally kept trying to change “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST” to “JESUS MOTHERFUCKING CHRIST” ’cause I thought it was funnier. No. Those those guys are like Shakespeare, and that’s absolutely right for them. You shouldn’t mess with them. You shouldn’t change a word with their scripts. Hamburg’s script is equally funny, but he loves to riff on it. He’ll be, y’know, over there in video village, and he’ll be throwing [out] shit. In the middle of the scene, we’ll hear this voice of god say a joke, and then we go, “Uh, which one of us is supposed to say that?” And we keep rolling. We burn a lot of film on this.
Q: But when you do try to change a word on a Coen brothers film, what do they say exactly?
Simmons: Well it’s nothing like… you don’t get a slap on the wrist. It’s all very nice and diplomatic. But, uh, y’know, the script supervisor will come over and (pointing at the script) “Remember? Here it is. These are the words.” “Oh yeah, yeah, right. Now I remember.” Certainly in The Ladykillers – which is the first time I worked with them – there were little things that we changed along the way and/or added, but it’s just not an improvisational atmosphere. They’re so prepared. I mean you get storyboards everyday with the sides on a Coen Brother’s movie. They’re so specific about knowing ahead of time about what the shot list is, and this and that. And it’s a totally different way of making an equally hilarious movie.
The highlight of the day is Simmons playfully referring to the director of Iron Man as “that schmuck Favreau”. Everything sounds better in Simmons-speak.
Once Andy Samberg’s done interrupting John Hamburg for what appears to be our amusement (I question this because Wet Hot American Summer helmsman and all-around mensch David Wain begins mocking us with his Blackberry soon after Samberg’s obligatory intrusion; there could be a measure of derisiveness afoot), we learn that the production is less than two weeks away from wrap. Then Samberg interrupts again.
John Hamburg: What’s up, man?
Andy Samberg: I just want to hear what you are saying. (Andy sticks his phone in with the rest of the interview tape recorders.)
Hamburg: So, the improvising. Is there a lot of improvising? Yeah, definitely. Scenes get expanded. Andy isn’t that good at improv, so his scenes kind of suck.
Samberg: You don’t have to address it. I just want to be a fly on the wall. I’m not even here. Not even!
John Hamburg: Sure, the improv takes the film in some different directions. I think that if you see the finished film and read the script, it will be quite similar. But these guys bring a lot to it. Not Andy. But most of these guys are really funny.
Then Hamburg is finally free to share with us the genesis of the project (aka the shit you’d normally want to know when reading a set visit report).
“I got involved about a year and a half ago,” screams Hamburg in absolute agony. “A version of this movie had been around for a number of years. And I had read a script with a similar concept about five years ago. It was being developed. Then a few years ago, I said to myself, ‘I have my own version of that story to tell.’ So I got together with the producer, and here we are.”
So we’re all clear on that now.
Actually, there was one other interview Andy Samberg didn’t interrupt, and that was our little eight minute chat with the none-too-little Lou Ferrigno. Seeing as how Ferrigno’s right hand could engulf my skull and squeeze until my childhood memories are dripping from my nose, Andy was probably wise to show a little restraint. But, oh, what a story I’d have if things had gone down differently.
As for why Ferrigno is in this movie, my question is this: why isn’t Ferrigno in every movie? While you’re figuring out how to wedge him into The Big Chill (incorrect answer: build a bigger casket), I must confess that, funny business aside, no one made a better case for this movie than Ferrigno.
Quoth Sweet Lou (who plays himself in the film), “This is a great romantic comedy. It is completely different. It is a movie you have never seen before, because it deals with a lot of sexuality. It has to do with the selling of my house.”
Okay, the whole Paul-Rudd-has-no-male-friends throughline? Racial epithet, please. A sex comedy about the selling of Lou Ferrigno’s house? That sells in the goddamn room! With a seven-figure budget! Fuckin’ Gene Hackman comes out of retirement for that shit! And Samberg thought he was being all edgy by basing his movie around a guy who not only wants to beat up his step-father, but make him shit his pants, too. Goddamn. That’s not a logline; that’s the face of God.
And all Ferrigno asks in return is that you start a petition for him to be on the next season of Dancing with the Stars. That, my friends, is the least you could do.
And so I sit here two days after the nuttiest set visit ever (too bad I was hanging out on Not Werner Herzog’s New Rose Hotel in a non-journalistic capacity back in the late 90s), my forehead hot enough to crack ice, the front door deadbolted for fear of Samberg… and I haven’t the slightest idea as to whether Hamburg can hold I Love You, Man together. He’s got a ridiculous array of talent (Jane Curtain, Thomas “Look at My Adorable Lapdog” Lennon and Jaime Pressly somehow escaped the online journalist inquisition), but if talent alone carried you past the goal line, 1941 would be required viewing in film schools across the country. Of course, I believe wholeheartedly that 1941 should be placed shoulder-to-shoulder with Potemkin, so maybe I’ve no choice but to love a buckshot whatever like I Love You, Man. Better to stuff your film full of inspiration than adhere to formula.
But I liked Hot Rod, so what the hell do I know?
*You skipped adolescence if you did not pass through this phase.