Rom-coms can often be a parody of themselves by virtue of just being themselves and giving into cliches and conventions. But how often do we get a legitimate parody of the genre that serves to smartly subvert while also maintaining a certain hopefulness needed to make us fall in L-U-V with it too?
That is likely the question that was on David Wain’s mind when he decided to bring many a Wet Hot American Summer alum together for They Came Together, now in select theatres and on VOD. From the moment the innuendo-laden lovefest starts, introducing you to main characters and soon-to-be soulmates (or so it seems) Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) as they poorly attempt to tell their “meet-cute” story to friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper), you get the feel that, like Wet Hot American Summer, this is not going to be your over-the-top Scary or Date Movie kind of parody, but something smarter and (for the most part) subtler. And what follows is just that, a film that’s equal parts astute and silly and might be the most accurate summation of the rom-com genre since The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling’s own ode to the Harrys and Sallys of the film world.
The thing about They Came Together is that while it hacks at some long-used tropes of lovey dovey drivel–the out-of-season park montage moment (look at those fake leaves as they roll around in the obvious green grass!), the “We’ve got something in common!” scene (Joel and Molly love fiction books–you know, something nobody else does!) and the uber klutzy female love interest (wait until you see Molly knock into everything possible))–it also goes after ones you have witnessed so many times but not even really thought about until now. Molly, for instance, owns a totally unnecessary small business (a candy store), much like Kristen Wiig’s Annie did in Bridesmaids (in the grand tradition of star-crossed lovers, Joel, of course, works at a giant candy company looking to kill Molly’s biz). Meanwhile, Joel gets relationship advice from his buddies during the event that every dude in the movies gets relationship advice from: a basketball game featuring all the standard male side characters (you know, the perpetually single dude, the dad, the sensitive nerd).
In this sense, there really aren’t too many surprises, plot-wise in They Came Together, but that’s okay because the jokes that Wain and Michael Showalter used to frame them were custom-made for that purpose. Some gags may go on to long in this pursuit, but the punchline is usually worth the wait, just as many of the biggest laughs in Wet Hot American Summer were. Like its predecessor, They Came Together is very straight-faced, crude and cynical in its humour, which might not play well with fans of the fare its making fun of. But this movie wasn’t really made for them, but for the people, like this reviewer, who have a hard time watching those types of flicks with any sense of sincerity.
What might bring They Came Together together even more so than its writing is the cast. Rudd and Poehler make for the perfect fumbling faux couple, using their puppy dog eyes and ability to turn on the overwrought enthusiasm on a dime to sell their supposedly relentless love for each other and everything around them. And they should really feel the love for that second part, as they are supported by a stacked secondary cast made up of their peers (think comedy faves like Ken Marino, Ed Helms and Kenan Thompson) as well as a handful of unexpected scene stealers (word to the wise: don’t look up the cast list on IMBD before you watch).
The amount of stars featured in the movie likely cut into the budget, explaining why some of the sets seem straight out of a bad single camera sitcom. But when you’re dealing with a genre that’s really more style over substance, as well as Wain and Showalter, those sort of style choices also seem like as much of a wink to the audience as a literal one from Rudd.
And yeah, that happens too. You know, in case you weren’t already head-over-inanimate-object-of-your-choice.