Sundance London 2014: ‘They Came Together’ gathers an inspired cast to satirize rom-coms but fails to go big or stay fresh

Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in David Wain's "They Came Together"
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in David Wain’s “They Came Together”

They Came Together
Written by David Wain and Michael Showalter
Directed by David Wain
USA, 2014

Molly (Amy Poehler) and Joel (Paul Rudd) are likable singles who reside in New York that we immediately want to get together and stay together but beyond the initial thrills of seeing them meet, the material of David Wain’s They Came Together soon turns disappointingly repetitive. Mimicking The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail, Molly’s small candy business goes up against Joel’s employer- the Corporate Candy Company. They have direct personal conflicts with each other but there is an undeniable pull of attraction between them that can’t be ignored. From ridiculing falling-in-love montages to klutzy bumblings on dates, this film in no way approaches the absolute zaniness of the best of Wain’s previous achievement with the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer nor is able to channel the genuinely smart but silly cinematic commentary Mel Brooks penned into High Anxiety– his send-up of Hitchcockian thrillers. Everything about the exciting casting and writing talents involved (Wain and Michael Showalter are formerly of the nutty sketch show The State) should have made this a glorious ride into the absurd, but the story plays it safe and doesn’t draw outside of the strict lines of romantic characterization that it sets out to pick apart.

Here and there are nicely deconstructed stereotypes or situations involving the couple’s schmaltzy meet-cute story but the film descends into tired echos of the first few jokes and is only shaken up by wacky cameos and the impressive, scene-stealing Chris Meloni. Meloni provides the most laughs as a boss who has a problem that he does everything to deny in scenes that are so out of left field that they feel absolutely refreshing given that the audience so quickly knows almost exactly what is going to be satirized next once the rhythm of the film falls into place and the viewer is even remotely versed in the tropes that rom-coms hinge upon. It’s not that these scenes fall completely flat but sewn so closely together, they are too similar to make much of a lasting impression. The stone-faced delivery of snarky Michael Ian Black as Joel’s corporate and sexual rival or Max Greenfield (New Girl) as Rudd’s plucky little brother who just wants to be there for him are performances that stick a little bit stronger than the work of our leads because these minor characters thankfully mix up the emotional direction of the film for a few fleeting moments.

They Came Together comes across like the rough draft of something amazing in the making but is still a pleasure to watch because the actors on hand are recognized as familiar favorites. The dialogue only skims the surface of the problems deeply ingrained in romantic comedies. The characters mimic the behavior of romantic comedies but problems stay the same because they don’t go through much a thought-provoking wringer. So it remains that Molly is only fulfilled by a relationship with a man and dopey friends takes a sad side saddle to romance even though the material is ripe for tearing apart. Poehler and Rudd are undeniably a winning combination but the same jokes are pushed too far even with a running time under the 90-minute mark. The creative juices don’t feel like they’ve been allowed to run rampant. Wain’s The Ten commands much more esteem than this effort for pulling out stories and moments that are extreme in execution and imagination. The ridiculous and stupid gags here are lovable because of the magical combination of talent inherent within the gifted cast but one can’t help but feel that They Came Together could have taken bigger risks (even if they were idiotic) when lampooning love in the modern age and gained far more respect than treading so cautiously albeit lovingly around the clichés.

— Lane Scarberry

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