In their new movie, They Came Together, writers David Wain and Michael Showalter craft a humorous send-up to the romantic comedies of the 90’s. Like their first feature film collaboration, 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer – which parodied the summer camp movies of the 80s – the pair use the genre as a jumping off point for their unique brand of nonsense and non-sequiturs.
I (yeah, I’m going to talk about myself for a little while – what else is new?) was directed toward Wet Hot American Summer as a high school freshman back in 2003. What I found was an absurdist comedy that would become one of my favorites – and one of the movies I have seen the most times in my life. They Came Together is the first movie Showalter and Wain have written together since that film – Wain went on to direct and co-write The Ten, Role Models, and Wanderlust, while Showalter wrote, directed and starred in his own take on romantic comedies, The Baxter. Can the two men recapture the magic that earned them a passionate cult following at the turn of the new millennium?
Wain also directs the picture, which stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler (a couple of Wet Hot American Summer vets), as Joel and Molly, a Tom-Hanks-and-Meg-Ryan-type pair who are destined to fall in love, despite the obstacles placed in their way. The plot is purposefully clichéd and straight-forward (a good number of the jokes are at the expense of familiar rom-com tropes), but it is all in the interest of making a fun and funny flick.
The movie is full of the outlandish and random comedy this crew has been doing so well since their days on The State, an early-MTV sketch show. There are a lot of jokes in the movie – a new one every five to ten seconds – and some of them really hit, while some just kinda flop out onscreen. Or not. It is difficult to review a comedy from the perspective of whether it is funny or not, because sense of humor is so subjective. I laughed a lot during the film (as did most of the audience I saw the film with), but many of the jokes may not satisfy a more traditional crowd.
In any other situation I would try to talk about how the movie works as a film, as opposed to its comedy, but They Came Together has no interest in being seen as anything other than a joke delivery system, unlike Wain’s other recent films like Role Models or Wanderlust. The characters are mostly ciphers that appear or disappear as needed, and the plot is extremely rote, as I already mentioned. But I can’t really hold that against They Came Together, as it’s all part of the movie’s design.
The actors all commit the parts they’ve been given. Rudd and Poehler are exactly what you would expect. The rest of the cast surrounding them are all-stars: Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper as the couple Joel and Molly tell their story to, Jason Mantzoukas as Joel’s best friend, Max Greenfield as Joel’s little brother, Ed Helms as Molly’s accountant, Christopher Meloni as Joel’s boss, numerous others, and a couple great cameos.
With such an amazing cast, the movie seems set up to be amazing, but something is missing. Maybe the problem is that romantic comedies, especially those of the type being skewered here, are low-hanging fruit at this point. Most rom-coms that come out these days have parodic elements of their own, so in a sense They Came Together kind of comes off as a parody of a parody, which is such a masturbatory concept that I don’t even want to think about it. Maybe all of these incredibly funny people could have been channeled into a more original concept.
That’s not to say They Came Together is without merit. I really enjoyed the 90 or so minutes I spent watching the film, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point down the line and catch jokes I completely missed today, but for now the movie has left a soft impression on me. Maybe I’m too old to be completely mesmerized by a ridiculous comedy the way I was 11 years ago. But I hope not. Because that would be sad.