They Came Together (2014) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jason Mantzoukas, Max Greenfield, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black, Michael Murphy, Kenan Thompson, Jack McBrayer, Ken Marino
Small role: Norah Jones, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Adam Scott, Michael Shannon, John Stamos
Director: David Wain
Screenplay: Michael Showalter, David Wain
Review published June 29, 2014
They Came Together is the umpteenth spoof on the romantic comedy, a genre which has become almost a parody of itself over the years. Do we need another satire on genre clichés we all know so well? Not really, but that doesn't mean laughs can't be had for those who are game for one that is sporadically clever, funny, and charming in its own self-aware attempt at manufactured smarminess. The gang who worked on the cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer, a film that missed its audience when it had been first released only to gain a hardcore following over the years, returns with another sure to follow in its predecessor's footsteps. They Came Together is not for the traditional romantic comedy crowd, who love the movies in spite of their ridiculous formulas; it's for those who know and love rom-coms because of them.
The film starts off with a couple named Joel (Rudd, Anchorman 2) and Molly (Poehler, Baby Mama) meeting another couple, Kyle (Hader, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) and Karen (Kemper, 21 Jump Street), for dinner. The latter couple wants to know the story about how Joel and Molly met, and what follows is a series of corny flashbacks on just that. Molly is a charity small candy shop owner whose business is threatened with sure failure when a corporate candy store chain called CSR (Candy Systems and Research) is building a candy palace right across the street. Joel is a board member for CSR who has a meet-cute with Molly before a Halloween party they are both attending, wearing the same Benjamin Franklin costume no less, which starts off shaky before it eventually soars from mutual attraction. However, a variety of hurdles keeps them from a life of unadulterated bliss before they can come together in the end.
David Wain (Role Models, The Ten) directs and co-writes with his collaborative partner Michael Showalter (The Baxter) to craft the most generic romantic comedy imaginable, but with characters who make fun it all throughout. It's apparent from the way they've crafted this parody that they aren't making fun of the popular subgenre because they hate it, but rather, they make fun of it because they've seen and enjoyed so many, they recognize the familiar patterns all too well. Yes, they know rom-coms are inherently stupid as stories, but they have lots of fun with the sheer inanity of them, cranking the idiocy to eleven just to show how silly they can really be.
The film is very generic in terms of its targets, though it does seem to borrow quite a bit from Nora Ephron films like When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle for its basic premise. Poehler is the Meg Ryan type, the girl next door who is cute but klutzy, as exemplified with how she knocks down every box in her closet just before the falls the flight of stairs to her home's foyer. Rudd is the 'somewhat Jewish'-looking mensch who is too dopey to realize that his coworker Trevor (Black, Partner(s)) is snaking his big account out from under him, as well as putting his snake to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Tiffany (Smulders, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
While all of this could have easily been deemed tedious in the wrong hands, it is the consummate comedic skill of Rudd and Poehler that sells it, precisely because they both fit the mold of two likeable people we want to see together in the end, even though we know the entire production is being played up as a lengthy lark. These are two masterful comedians in their own right who really would make for a wonderful on-screen couple in a traditional romance. A fantastic supporting cast includes Christopher Meloni (Man of Steel), who steals his scenes -- especially in the raunchiest gag involving a Halloween costume that he can't take off in time when he needs to use the restroom at a party -- and Ed Helms (We're the Millers) as the guy who can't stop hitting on Molly, even though he doesn't know a thing about what she likes in a man. A host of cameo appearances keep things fresh, with none better than singer Norah Jones, whose music video literally meshes with the actors on the screen in a very big and funny way.
In what would have probably been better served as a 10-minute "Funny-or-Die" skit, They Came Together is far too long for the thinly defined, very repetitive material (one of the gags actually involves a man walking up to a bartender to literally repeat the same trite dialogue a dozen times), even at only 83 minutes, to consider an unqualified great parody, there's enough good jokes strewn about to keep the interest level through some of the lulls and gags that fall flat. Mileage will certainly vary greatly on this one. It's one of those films that will either hook you in early and make you progressively giddier with its insanity throughout, or it will miss you entirely, leaving you scratching your head as to just what's supposed to be so funny about all of this rampant absurdity. But if you like absurdist humor that isn't afraid to try for a big laugh and fail just as much as it succeeds, They Came Together will likely come together just enough for a recommendation to you.
©2014 Vince Leo