In “I Love You, Man,” Paul Rudd plays a newly engaged guy who has no male friends for his half of the wedding party. The solution involves a series of “man-dates” that end in mixed messages, gay misunderstandings, awkwardness and public brawls.
Then he meets the laid-back Sydney (Jason Segel), who teaches him the art of hanging out, listening to Rush, using tons of ridiculous slang, and refusing to grow up. Sort of.
It’s an adulthood that’s half-evolved, half-meathead, all stoner. This is how guys behave in modern movies about guys. And if you don’t like it then maybe you should just watch “High School Musical 3.”
From the outside it can seem like a daunting task sorting through the rules of the new Ways To Be A Dude from movies like “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Step Brothers,” “Role Models,” “Superbad,” “Fanboys” and the upcoming “Adventureland.”
It’s not the vintage stoicism of Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum or Charles Bronson. It’s not the sensitive pushover built from spare parts of old episodes of “Donahue” or the stupid surfer Valley Guy that Sean Penn and Keanu Reeves cut their teeth portraying. It’s something else. And it usually involves a prescription for medical marijuana. Here are some of the rules:
1. Dress like a 10 year-old with money and idiosyncratic taste in music. Rumpled and possibly dirty is good. Shorts and T-shirts are good, especially old ones that look like they live on the floor. They can be funny like Will Ferrell’s blue Judds shirt from “Step Brothers” or Segel’s obscure vintage acid house “Live at The Brain” shirt from “I Love You, Man.” Dressing professionally means you have dude-things to learn and that you need to lighten up or, worst of all, that your girlfriend is picking out your clothes.
2. Pepper your everyday speech with references to flatulence, diarrhea, sex acts, vomit and menstruation. If you can work them all into one sentence that’s used in the presence of your mom or, better yet, your best friend’s mom, all the better. Extra points if you can spread this frosting on the cake of an expensive college education. The “Adventureland” twentysomethings toss around Nikolai Gogol and Virgil as often as they do bags of weed.
3. Obviously, speaking of weed, be a stoner. Yes, it’s illegal and a bad example for kids who sneak in or see the movie online. But people are hilarious when they’re high and the added growth-stunting appeal dovetails nicely into the kind of stalled adolescence onto which this paradigm hangs its grubby self.
4. It would help if you were Paul Rudd. As the least odd-looking, obnoxious or abrasive of the new pack of comedy males, he’s fallen into being the new everyguy in these movies. Torn between responsibility and partying, he’s approachable but funny, a non-threatening aspirational figure for male audience members to self-assign as their own little avatar. If you’re Paul Rudd you get the girl and the side benefits of the bromance. He’s kind of like having your own grown-up Jonas Brother to worship.
5. Use so much convoluted, idiomatic slang-intensive speech that even you don’t understand. Rather than leaving it behind in the hermetically sealed teenage world, the New Dude carries it well into adulthood and trades it for credibility with other men. “I Love You, Man” takes a daring approach to this rule by mocking the practice (See the ad campaign’s “Pop a squiznot” posters) but it will most likely endure anyway.
6. Obsess over music, preferably one nerd-certified band. And it’s not really music appreciation. The band stands in for what you’ve given up in life or never had in the first place, but you still get to be cool by association with them. In “Role Models” it was KISS. Jason Bateman, in “Juno,” kept his Sonic Youth records in the one room of his suburban home that Jennifer Garner allowed to belong to him alone. In “I Love You, Man” Segel worships Rush so much that the band makes a cameo appearance.
7. Be clearly not gay but not a homophobe either. This one is tricky because it obligates you to make gay jokes all the time but not be serious about it, knowing how to walk that line between funny and offensive. It’s the difference between the banter of “40-Year-Old Virgin” vs. the numbskull chatter of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” Extra points for making those gay jokes to your gay friends. Bonus extra points for being actually gay but, like Andy Samberg’s gay brother character in “Man,” still being dude-like about it.
8. Bros before hos. Be oblivious or hostile to and/or bored by the gender your sexual orientation finds most appealing. It’s too much work to do otherwise since sex is so mystifying and the rules involved in pleasing other people are incredibly difficult to memorize, requiring an effort that extends past oneself. Friends don’t ask anything of you other than for your ability to provide weed, beer or snacks.
9. Be afraid or disdainful of really aggressive “man’s men.” Aggro guys are like Steven Seagal. They could crush your throat with one hand, and that’s awesome in the abstract, but you can never relax around them. They want you to get as overly excited about sports as they are and they get their feelings hurt when you’re not as pathologically angry and violent as they are. And then they want to crush your throat with one hand. So it’s kind of a cycle.
10. No matter how successful you are at your job or how much money you make or how expensive your house in the hills is, be ambivalent about adulthood forever. Well-adjusted guys just aren’t funny.
Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile in Guyville.” Find him at www.imdavewhite.com.