By Simon Miraudo
September 22, 2014
They Came Together is here to kill romantic comedies, and yet, it’s five years too late, like a Terminator who hasn’t accounted for daylight savings. The ugly truth, ahem, is that it was beaten to the punch by Katherine Heigl, who, either through her own hubris or for some covert, Illuminati-like mission, starred in so many consecutively awful ones she effectively drove her gravy train off a cliff. So, David Wain‘s spoof plays out instead like Of Mice and Men, putting a bullet in the back of the genre’s head not out of cruelty but kindness; making any future clichéd rom-coms unnecessary, and thus protecting it from darker fates. I mean, imagine if Heigl one day decided to make 28 Dresses?
It opens with the non-threateningly handsome Joel (Paul Rudd) and flibbertigibbet Molly (Amy Poehler) on a double date, insufferably debating about the local art scene before relaying their contrived origin story (needing only a light prodding from the other couple). They spare no detail, no matter how excruciating, making a point to mention ad nauseam how New York City is like the third party in their relationship, and how amazingly their tale resembles that of a stupid movie. It really does. She owns a quaint little sweets shop, and he works at the candy conglomerate trying to shut her down. They meet cute and it’s hate at first sight. Eventually they fall in love, until an out-of-nowhere argument divides them. Molly gets engaged to a classic Baxter and Joel makes a last-minute dash to halt their nuptials. Oh, and her parents are white supremacists, which, in fairness, is a new one.
They Came Together thinks romantic comedies are dumb, and they are, though ironically, Wain’s very silly satire mostly succeeds for the same reasons the best rom-coms do: because of the charm and effervescent charisma of its stars. That includes Wain and his co-writer Michael Showalter‘s former State and Wet Hot American Summer buddies, not to mention Jason Mantzoukas, Max Greenfield, Ellie Kemper, Bill Hader, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Teyonah Parris, and Cobie Smulders. Again, I’m not sure how different this all is to any other crappy romance that’s at least smart enough to populate its minor roles with talented improvisers. Frankly, I wonder if Wain shouldn’t have tried to make an actually good film with Rudd and Poehler at its center. They’re two of the finest comic actors working today, armed with surprising dramatic depth as well as real presence and chemistry (two of those meaningless phrases we use when talking about rom-coms and the intangible something held by its most watchable stars). When a rom-com is good, there’s little in cinema better.
But don’t write-off They Came Together as a missed opportunity. It’s not the timeliest take-down, nor is it as sophisticated as the recent pastiches by Edgar Wright or Phil Lord and Chris Miller. However, it’s so brazenly goofy, gleefully anarchic, and impressively self-destructive, it succeeds in wringing out big, dumb, hearty laughs. They Came Together also has an absurdly acrobatic sex scene that looked positively exhausting, and unless I blinked while something similar occurred during Runaway Bride, that’s another thing it has over regular rom-coms.
They Came Together will be available from Quickflix on September 24, 2014.