This feels like it could be the deathblow to the modern rom-com, albeit a heartfelt one. A laugh-y, daffy spoof of romantic comedies, David Wain’s They Came Together is a fitting successor to his master-class lampoon Wet Hot American Summer. Like any great parody,They Came Together draws from a deep well of weird love for genre, and the pitfalls and problems of any given genre. Here, it’s every sloppy, sappy, so-so movie that came in the wake of Nora Ephron.
They Came Together picks it all apart. The meet-cutes, the disingenuous locales, the “witty” banter, the holier-than-thou leads with their snazzy upper middle-class jobs; all of it receives the gonzo treatment here. Even the movie’s poster has the New York skyline in white, with red and black cursive fonts belying a familiar stare among leads. Does this remind you of the pre-McConaissance? If only more sex scenes just revolved around heavy petting until exhaustion and dehydration.
The premise itself is like a freak version of You’ve Got Mail. Paul Rudd is Joel, business dude for a big-time New York City candy company. He’s vying for a big promotion while licking his wounds after a big breakup. Amy Poehler is Molly, a New York City candy shop owner, that’s about to have her little store shut down. Oh, and she has exes or kids, or some stuff, whatever. They’re from separate worlds! Opposite sides of the tracks! They couldn’t be any more different! She’s a klutz and he’s a putz! Slap as many trailer idioms on these two as you want. Joel and Molly are every movie where an upwardly mobile guy and a manic pixie dream girl lean on each other back to back in the ads.
Plot is insubstantial at this point. It’s vaguely reminiscent of every movie of this kind from 1989 to 2014, and you could best guess how Joel and Molly’s courtship goes. What’s best and most considerable about his movie is its sense of humor. It will literally do whatever it wants for the sake of trying out gags at the expense of genre.
David Wain is in top form, capable of making a universe out of a microcosm, lovingly ridiculing everything about it. He’s learned that that sometimes the best beats are the most oddly placed ones (like letting a character ask if someone does their own pap smears because they like q-tips…on a first date). They Came Together’s genius hysteria is earned by picking great spots for guffaws. It walks and talks like a garden-variety cutesy movie, and yet the framework is so familiar that Wain is able to implant things seamlessly and unexpectedly. It’s a smashed vase for no reason in a hot love scene. It’s a costume party where a man suddenly evacuates his bowels, is confronted with it, then bafflingly gets away with it. The movie laughs in the face of the whole genre’s naïveté, what with its clueless characters and sickly sweet scenarios, while heavily pouring on the weird.
Just look at one of the many great laughs in the movie. Joel, in all his gee-shucks fervor, goes to visit his Bubby, a grandmother or a great aunt or something for love talk. It plays how you’d imagine. Joel hears what he needed to hear, and his life is changed by his wise, old, sassy Bubby. The scene’s funny because it knows all the beats from countless moments like it before (often with Betty White in some capacity). But then, Joel hugs Bubby, and for no reason, pulls up her dress to expose a toned, stand-in ass. It’s startling, and strange, and a first-rate subversion of a moment so familiar that maybe that butt was needed to really shake things up. It’s great. This is just one of many riotous moments that Wain and his smart team come up with in this wise-assed love letter.
This is exactly why They Came Together is so special: it knows the game so well that it may actually change it.
If a comedy’s success is measured by the ratio of hits to thuds in jokes, then this movie is the greatest hits of goofs on romantic comedy. This movie has so many great, big laughs. They Came Together is a lampoon worthy of Airplane! or Black Dynamite-level status for comedy. It’s a treasury of non-sequitors, sight gags, wit, funky love, speed, butts, burgers, montages, machetes, and even a little bit of insight.