Romantic comedies, by and large, are my least favorite genre of movie. While there are outliers in every data set, I generally find them to be incredibly formulaic and trite and generally hokum for no reason. The scenarios stretch even the most flimsy of realities and the conflicts seem more forced than Shia LaBeouf attempting to not come across as douchey (it’s not gonna happen). Evidently, writers David Wain and Michael Showalter feel the same way about them and have decided to skewer every single trope in the history of the rom-com in what is probably the funniest film I’ve seen in who knows how long: They Came Together.
Though David Wain has directed a couple more mainstream comedies in the last few years like Role Models and Wanderlust, not to mention all his great work with Children’s Hospital, his masterpiece still seems to be 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, which he also co-wrote with his The State and Stella cohort Michael Showalter. They Came Together feels like a continuation of that type of movie-making, with broad parody and absurd humor running the entire 83 minute length. It’s a very packed 83 minutes, though; I don’t think I stopped laughing for more than 45 seconds at a time.
The story is what you’ve probably seen in every romantic comedy ever made, and that’s the point. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler play a couple who are telling their story to another couple played by Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper. It seems it wasn’t love at first sight…not at all! In fact, you won’t believe this, but they HATED each other at first. She owned a small candy store in New York City (which is like another character in the movie!) and had just gotten out of a long relationship; he worked for a big corporate candy conglomerate and had a super hot but emotionally unavailable girlfriend (Cobie Smulders). After the girlfriend is caught cheating with his work rival (Michael Ian Black), Rudd agrees to let his best friend (Jason Mantzoukas) set him up with a woman at a Halloween party. And you guys, it does not go well at all.
From there, the plot follows literally every single romantic comedy cliche ever conceived with the knowing wink of people who have probably watched every romantic comedy ever made. The characters in this film are a checklist of different attributes and traits from the sum total of archetypes past. Put all together, and with Rudd and Poehler’s likable and silly sensibilities, the hollowness of the genre shines through in the funniest way it possibly can.
The supporting cast is impressive to say the least. On top of those I’ve already mentioned, people like Ed Helms, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Meloni, and Michaela Watkins show up for various lengths of time. A scene on the basketball court between Rudd, Mantzoukas, Ken Marino, Kenan Thompson, and Jack McBrayer illustrates how guys in these movies always represent different aspects of the main character’s feelings toward love. No one speaks in better generalities than these folks.
Perhaps my favorite scenes in the movie are between Rudd and Max Greenfield, playing his younger brother. The younger brother can’t seem to find a steady job and is living in Rudd’s place (which he has done since their parents died when they were both kids). They constantly refer to each other as “Big Brother” and “Little Brother” and every confrontation they have ends with one of them walking away a few feet before the other stops them and says something dramatic like “…thanks,” or “…go get ‘em, tiger.” It’s hysterical every single time. Also enjoyable are the conversations between Poehler and Mad Men‘s Teyonah Parris, who plays the wise-beyond-her-years best friend whose every line of dialogue is a piece of perfect advice.
To talk about too many more specifics would spoil the jokes which are as adept and solid as jokes can be. What I enjoy most about it is that the jokes are very clearly written and intended bits, not merely cases of “let’s let these people improv until the jokes emerge” which is what seems to happen in way too many comedies these days (read: all of them). There’s something very literate and Pythonesque about Wain and Showalter’s script that has been really lacking in this film genre of late. They’re smart guys writing smart parody in the dumbest way possible and that’s the mark of a comedy that will resonate for awhile to come. This should, and probably will, be the Wet Hot American Summer of this decade. Go see it.