They Came Together review


Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain set his sights on rom-coms for this amusing, if lightweight and unremarkable, comedy.

They Came Together begins in a restaurant, with Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) on one side of he table and Kyle (Bill Hader) and Karen (Ellie Kemper) on the other. The first couple begin to recall the story of how they met, what’s happened since, and joke about how it’s like a corny romantic comedy. Which is the film’s central joke, because it is exactly like a romantic comedy.

So exactly that there are the one-dimensional friends of Joel that provide advice defined by their simplistic stereotypes; there’s the plot contrivance that sets Joel and Molly against each other, with her running a small, quirky sweet shop, and him working for a big evil candy company; and so on and so on.

But the difference, of course, is that we’re not just being expected to accept these conventions, or perhaps even enjoy them at times, Wain and his co-screenwriter Michael Showalter have heightened the tropes to highlight just how silly they are, eking out laughs by pointing out the commonality of these traits across the genre, and often the absurdity that’s inherent in them.

But where the film falls down primarily, is that a lot of the time, the insights aren’t anywhere near witty or biting enough, and the film is just pointing out something that most people will have noticed and even mocked for themselves. This isn’t smart satire, it’s essentially just an amusing spoof of a subject with weaknesses so obvious that it’s pretty much moved beyond parody already.

Other things threaten to suffocate the comedy too. The aforementioned one-dimensional friends scene ends with the characters explaining the joke and telling the audience that they are one dimensional, existing here in the film solely to provide different viewpoints. Explaining a joke and flatly pointing out what is supposed to be funny so rarely makes a joke funnier, and it also betrays and assumption that the audience wouldn’t be capable of sufficiently grasping a joke without explanation. This sequence really does land with an almighty thud and it took a few more amusing vignettes before I could get back in step with the film’s sprightly pace.

They Came Together is funny in places, and Wain and Showalter do their best work in the film with a sprinkling of more subtle jokes that the cast deliver with apparent ease. There’s a moment, for instance, in which Joel’s ex, played by Cobie Smulders. rises from bed and stretches her arms, only for the bedsheets to remain in place, covering her breasts.

On the other hand, the scenes of Molly being a stereotypical klutz and falling down the stairs is the kind of broad comedy that could be a lot of fun but is too heavily signposted and belaboured, and Wain then does little with the sequence beyond just exploiting Poehler’s skills in pratfalling.

Romantic comedies did hit something of a low point when filmmakers played it safe and counted on an audience that would perhaps still show up even when the quality of films proved to be exceptionally low. More recently, though, there has been a shift, with smart romantic comedies like Crazy, Stupid, Love and Bridesmaids, and to some degree even films such as Friends with Benefits, playing with the genre conventions and subverting a rather stale formula from within. Even in a film like What’s Your Number? has a surprising number of comedic moments that don’t quite fit the mold.

Maybe They Came Together just comes a little too late, spoofing a genre that has already moved on from the awkward Heigl-Aniston period that seemed to turn so many people off.

Wain might have tackled several of the more problematic issues with modern rom-coms, such as the lack of racial diversity and the propensity for heteronormative attitudes, but instead, he opted for a pretty superficial swipe across the genre. They Came Together takes a soft lob down the middle at a rather easy target.

The film is funny at times and does get in and out pretty speedily, but rather than offering a full-throated and scathing takedown of cliches and stereotyping, They Came Together simply offers pleasures that are not too dissimilar to those of the very films it intends to poke fun at.