Saturday, June 28, 2014

They Came Together

THEY CAME TOGETHER (David Wain, 2014)

Among film genres the romantic comedy is not alone in relying on conventions, but it may be the most hidebound to them. While horror and action movies have predictable narrative arcs, they differentiate themselves more often through style and directorial voice. Romantic comedies tend to sand down singular qualities to the point that the films seem interchangeable. Settings and character names and occupations vary, although less than you’d think, but an overwhelming majority follow the same formula. Two people meet, fall in love, separate over a usually trivial misunderstanding or disagreement, and reunite via a grand display of affection. THEY CAME TOGETHER isn’t the first spoof to make fun of the genre’s clich├ęs, but rather than torching romantic comedies, it simply and sweetly toasts them like a marshmallow.

Loosely resembling YOU’VE GOT MAIL, which was a remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, THEY CAME TOGETHER pairs up Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler). She runs a cute candy shop in Manhattan that distributes all proceeds to charity. He works as a development executive at Candy Systems and Research, which plans to open a superstore across the street and run her out of business. Their friends intend to introduce the cute, klutzy Molly and newly single, non-threatening Joel at a Halloween party, but they become acquainted when literally bumping into one another on the way there. Both are dressed as Ben Franklin, which suggests they must have plenty in common, but their ungraceful meeting and conflicting jobs endanger a relationship from being established. Luckily for the adorable twosome, Joel apologizes the next day, and they bond over usual first date chatter about Q-tips and communism.

THEY CAME TOGETHER isn’t far removed from something like DATE MOVIE, a supremely lazy 2006 parody film with the same target. The difference is that screenwriter Michael Showalter and co-writer/director David Wain construct jokes rather than using references to popular films as sloppy shorthand. (There may be a joke linked to Werner Herzog’s MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE, but if it’s intended, the number of people who get it has to be infinitesimally small.) Clearly THEY CAME TOGETHER is riffing on romantic comedies like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, but the humor comes from ribbing overused narrative elements than requiring recognition of specific sources.

Among the things Wain and Showalter call out are how supporting characters’ lives exist completely in relation to how they can help the couple, how coincidences and the protagonists’ awful behavior are taken for granted, and how there’s always time for a ridiculous montage of trying on clothes. The easy laugh lines are clever and consistent enough to supercede the one-note nature of them. Rudd and Poehler are supremely likable and play off each other so well that someone ought to cast them in a romantic comedy that isn’t an ironic roast of them.

Although there’s plenty of obvious humor, like the jars of tennis balls and gumballs on a shelf just waiting to be spilled when Molly and Joel wreck the apartment when making out for the first time, some of the funniest jokes in THEY CAME TOGETHER are hidden in the margins. Joel’s apartment is my favorite. It has the stereotypical set decorations that are always seen in the living spaces of big city dwellers. Joel’s home is decked out with multiple clocks, a vintage Pepsi sign, street signs, reels, a small and enormous desk globe, a guitar, and a pinball machine. The film doesn’t comment on how the apartment looks; it just lets its absurd existence be on display as further evidence of the artificial and prosaic qualities too many romantic comedies settle for.

Grade: B

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