Director: David Wain
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and with cameos included, literally too many other amazing stars and comedians to even name
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 romantic comedy tropes. This film is perfect for people who love David Wain’s offbeat style of comedy, but it is equally great for anyone who either loves or hates rom-coms themselves. Co-written by Michael Showalter, the film is an over the top parody that somehow flatters and forgives the very formulas that are being exaggerated and made fun of, resulting in a truly smart spoof that is also outlandish and consistently hilarious.
The plot of They Came Together is all too familiar, but embellished enough for us to know that that in itself is the main joke of the film at large, with smaller gags to be found in nearly every shot and at any moment. A quirky, clumsy woman named Molly (played by Poehler) owns a small, independent candy shop that is threatened by a large, corporate candy conglomerate at which Joel (Rudd) works. The film is told to us by Molly and Joel while they recount the tale to two friends, played by Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader. The scenes with the four of them at a restaurant are some of the most tangential, self-referential, and entertaining of the film. Functioning like a dysfunctional Greek chorus, narrative tropes are explicitly introduced to us by this second couple and, in equal measure, they question certain parts of the story that come off as particularly absurd.
I think that’s what makes this movie as great as it is; it references and riffs upon previous rom-coms in the most obvious of ways, but it also retains Wain’s usual sense of humor, which can be best described, again, as offbeat and absurd. So as opposed to grounding the film in any way, the craziness of the film is only heightened further– the entire thing plays like a giddy farce, a film that is playing dress up as a rom-com, traipsing through the formula with unrelated zaniness in tow. So the humor of the film is really coming from two, if not more, sources– knowing what a Wain comedy looks like as well as knowing how ridiculous rom-coms can so often be.
Again, there are jokes (of all kinds) to be found everywhere: visually and in the script, in the timing, the music, and in the formulas themselves. Plus, the cast and cameos are impeccable. One noteworthy scene finds Joel playing basketball with his friends (played by Jason Mantzoukas, Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino and Jack McBrayer), each one of whom outwardly announces which aspect of Joel’s personality he represents. In fact, each character seems to know his or her gendered and generic role, stereotype, and purpose. Those kinds of things are similarly announced for the audience– Molly has one of those lengthy trying-on-crazy-outfits sequences and numerous jokes are made about Joel’s commitment issues, just to name a couple of examples.
They Came Together is outrageous and clever, sometimes irreverent but always highly aware and respectful of its general trajectory, and Wain and Showalter have done a fantastic job of covering even the more nuanced or subtle traits of a typical rom-com, making them anything but nuanced or subtle here. Like a checklist of rom-com tropes that have been synthesized with Wain’s brand of weird, random humor, the film makes the predictable somehow unpredictable, and the result feels more fulfilling and satisfying even in all its intentional stupidity than most actual romantic comedies.