Director: David Wain (The Ten, Wanderlust))
Writers: Michael Showalter, David Wain
Producer: Michael Showalter
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Bill Hader
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 83 min.
David Wain is one of the few original voices working in comedy today, bouncing from mainstream studio pictures like Role Models to more oddball fare like Wet Hot American Summer. His newest film, They Came Together, certainly fits into the realm of the latter (if anything I’d say its closest relative is his more off-the-wall web series “Wainy Days”) with its self-aware skewering of the romantic comedy genre and the many tropes that are designed within and around it. Joel, played by Paul Rudd, is a big wig at a corporate candy company who is going through a rough breakup from his girlfriend whom he discovered sleeping with his co-worker. Molly (Amy Poehler) runs a quirky little independent candy store that is coming under threat of eradication by Joel’s company. The two are invited by their friends to a Halloween costume party with the intention of setting them up, but on the way there they bump into another, both dressed in Benjamin Franklin costumes, and immediately take a dislike to one another. Things only get worse from there until the two slowly begin to form a connection and wouldn’t you know it they start to date.
They Came Together structures itself as Joel and Molly telling the story of how they met to a pair of friends (played with great reactionary humor from Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper spattered throughout the movie) over dinner and as their story unfolds Wain and company (the film was co-written by Michael Showalter) try to cram in as many daggers to the sides of rom-com cliches as they can in an 80-minute period. There are plenty of laughs to be had in They Came Together, though none of them were too uproarious for me, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s ultimately a one-joke premise stretched out to a feature length. This is something that could have just as effectively been a “Funny or Die” short or a “Saturday Night Live” sketch (and the low production value gives it more of an aesthetic in that area than a feature), but it’s too thin to really warrant a feature film and it comes dangerously close to pushing its luck. For me, it closed off right before the breaking point but for others it went well past that and I can definitely understand why they would be turned off by it.
As Wain always does when he’s allowed free range to break from traditional narrative form, They Came Together is loaded with odd recurring bits and veers into absurd fantasy out of nowhere at times and it keeps things unpredictable but for every two or three jokes that worked for me there was at least one that fell entirely flat. There’s a gag involving Christopher Meloni soiling himself while wearing a superhero costume that felt so juvenile it belonged in a Seltzer and Friedberg movie as opposed to one with people of this intelligence behind it and a sight gag with a waiter played by Zak Orth having a literal pole up his ass was particularly groan-worthy. Still, there were more than enough bits that hit the mark to keep They Came Together on the side of a pleasant experience for me, whether it was the traditional “guy meets girl’s parents and gets an unexpected surprise” taken to an extreme, the constant use of the “wait!” moment used in movies from all genres or a sword-wielding eleventh hour cameo that made me sit up in my seat. I certainly didn’t love They Came Together and can’t imagine it being something that will last in my memory long but it was enough to keep me relatively entertained for 80 minutes and thankfully didn’t push its luck by extending beyond that.