?PINEAPPLE EXPRESS?: Seth Rogen?s character, standing, begins to question… (Columbia Pictures )
SPRINGTIME HAD come to Venice Beach. And in a dimly lighted seaside restaurant-bar transformed by the presence of dozens of movie extras, miles of electronic cables and track-mounted cameras, you could see something singular happening: a young man's fancy turning to thoughts of bromance.
Thirty-one days into a 41-day shoot for the comedy "I Love You, Man," on-set action concerned a crucial interaction between two characters -- a commitment-phobic frat boy-type (played by Jason Segel) and a nerdy serial monogamist who has no male friend close enough to serve as best man at his impending wedding (Paul Rudd) -- out on their first "man date" (definition: two heterosexual men socializing without the structured agenda of a business meeting or sporting event). Under the direction of writer-director John Hamburg, the actors chugged pint after pint of non-alcoholic beer running through take after heavily improvisational take in an effort to make the scene's comic tenor just right. That is: chummy and jokey, brotherly but tender, loving (in a red-blooded American way) but decidedly not gay.
In between scene set-ups, Rudd explained what led to his appearance in a film that actively bills itself as a "bromantic comedy" -- a now well-established comic subgenre that, although not new, is certainly ascending to new heights of cultural prominence. "I just loved the idea of a romantic comedy about platonic male love," Rudd said. "It's topical. It seems fresh and relatable. And if it wasn't in this [movie], it would have been something just like this in the next year or two."
Smell that pheromonal whiff of bromance in the air? It's becoming a pervasive stench in Hollywood with two bromantically themed movies coming out -- "I Love You, Man" (due in January 2009) and the stoner action comedy "Pineapple Express" (which hits theaters on Aug. 6) -- as well as a Ryan Seacrest-produced television series in development for MTV that's actually called "Bromance."
But what's so funny about guys looking for peace, man love and a nonsexual understanding of each other? "It's something you see every day," said Hamburg. "But if you shine a light on it, you find there's a lot to explore."
The Judd Apatow effect
IN AN era when "Let's hug it out" -- the expression popularized by hard-charging agent Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage" -- has become an acceptable (if now hackneyed) emollient for male sadness and anger, metrosexuality has a tight-fitting stranglehold on men's fashion and the touchy-feely rock stylings of emo have largely replaced metal aggression on the airwaves, we can assign blame for bromance's sudden zeitgeist-iness on one man: comedy mogul Judd Apatow.
The hit-making writer-director behind "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" produced such touchstone bromantic films as "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" and can be almost single-handedly credited with taking explorations of platonic male love burping and swearing into the mainstream. As the Moses of Bromance, Apatow seized on certain social mores -- modern men's reluctance to embrace adulthood, how prolonged singledom necessarily triggers male bonding and how increasing societal acceptance of homosexuality has resulted in men becoming less afraid of being perceived as gay -- to split a new comedy atom.
Each of those three films set the template by featuring certain key bromantic elements: a tight-knit group of hard-cursing, wisecracking male homies who provide one another with emotional support, plentiful bong hits and terrible relationship advice. In each case, the group eventually enables a central character (respectively played by Steve Carell in "Virgin," Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up" and Jonah Hill in "Superbad") to fulfill his heterosexual conquest. And in all three movies, the man/men vs. man-woman frisson plumbs bromance for every last ounce of its inherent hilarity and pathos (e.g., after bickering like brothers for much of the film, the two leads in "Superbad" wind up snuggled in a sleeping bag, exchanging softly uttered intimacies about their love for each other).
But to take the current vogue back to its genesis, one must look back on a continuum of ambiguous male relationship that encompasses Laurel and Hardy (who in some movies shared a bed), "Sesame Street's" Ernie and Bert (who cohabitated in a shared bedroom) and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
And for those who want a longer view of the subgenre's antecedents, look no further than Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Cervantes' 16th century tome about bros living life and chasing dreams -- Don Quixote and the original wingman, Sancho Panza.
"I Love You, Man" traces its bromantic heritage back to the 1992 "Saturday Night Live"-based movie comedy "Wayne's World" -- specifically, to a scene in which Terry (Lee Tergesen), the cameraman and dedicated amigo of Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers), professes his ardor for Wayne by exclaiming, "I love you, man!"