Directed by: David Wain
Premise: A couple (Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) recounts how they met.
What Works: The parody genre has been in a pretty sorry state over the past decade. After the box office success of the Scary Movie series, the genre was gradually destroyed by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg in debacles like Epic Movie and Vampires Suck as well as a flurry of equally lazy direct-to-video parodies. This is too bad because the parody remains a viable film genre and laughs can still be had in sending up established film genres and contemporary trends in pop culture. They Came Together is a parody of the romantic comedy genre and it is a much better parody than a lot of recent examples. One of the main problems of recent parody films, especially those of Seltzer and Friedberg and their imitators, is that they didn’t appear to understand—or have even seen—the movies that they were satirizing. The filmmakers of They Came Together demonstrate a grasp of the conventions and clichés of the romantic comedy. This movie is a reunion of the talents of another successful parody, 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer. Like They Came Together, that film was also directed by David Wain, co-written by David Showalter, and featured Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd among the cast. Wet Hot American Summer was a parody of the summer vacation movies from the 1980s like Meatballs and Caddyshack and it nailed the tone of the films from that period. They Came Together does much the same thing for the romantic comedy. Unlike Wet Hot American Summer it isn’t invoking a particular period but it does draw on a long established genre and lampoons a lot of the conventions that have remained consistent since When Harry Met Sally established the contemporary romantic comedy twenty-five years ago. They Came Together picks up on a lot of the character types and absurd scenarios typically found in movies like this. The movie works as well as it does largely due to the casting of Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. These performers have a comic style that is perfect for the material and they are likable enough that the film remains watchable even when its self-conscious style treads on obnoxiousness.
What Doesn’t: Romantic movies tend to be less cinematic than other film genres. This kind of picture doesn’t require elaborate cinematic techniques and the audience’s expectations of a romantic comedy are usually undemanding so there is little incentive for filmmakers to do creative or innovative things. Despite being a parody, They Came Together falls within the visual framework of most romantic comedies and it looks very televisual instead of cinematic. Director David Wain, who has primarily worked in television, competently sets up the scenes to mimic the look of most romantic comedies but as a parody the filmmakers could have done more interesting things with the visual style of the movie and exploited that for comedy. They Came Together also has a narrow sense of humor. Just as the visual style recalls television programs, the humor relies on the self-conscious awkwardness of Parks and Recreation and The Office. The humor consistently works but it is very limited in tone and style. The filmmakers don’t mix up the kinds of comedy and the tone of fake sincerity does begin to grate by the end of the picture. Those obnoxious qualities are diffused by the film’s short length. They Came Together runs a mere eighty-three minutes and the brevity helps. But this is a movie whose sense of humor is very particular. It’s hard to say if it will appeal to fans of the romantic comedy or if it’s more a film for the genre’s detractors. Viewers who enjoyed Wet Hot American Summer will probably love it but this is ultimately a niche title.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: They Came Together is not likely to be a broad hit with the romantic comedy audience but those who get it are really going to like it. The movie is smart and funny while managing an off-kilter tone and that’s enough to merit a recommendation.
Episode: #516 (November 2, 2014)