Joe (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) have a funny story about how they met, but it may be one you’ve heard before. David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter pull together some familiar faces for They Came Together which sends up the romantic comedy genre with funny, and surprisingly layered, results.
As Joe and Molly recount their story over dinner with their friends Karen (Ellie Kemper) and Kyle (Bill Hader) the classic tropes are quickly laid out for all four characters – Joe worked for a large corporation that threatened to put Molly’s quirky shop out of business while Karen and Kyle’s marriage may (not so secretly) be on the rocks. The script’s on-the-nose descriptions of each character (as described by the characters themselves) actually works to frame them as self-aware people forced to play out roles we have seen before and allows the hilarious cast to play within those lines.
Poehler and Rudd have a natural chemistry that makes them believable as the two leads in love, but their comedy also blends well making it clear they are having fun with each other and the characters they are playing. We have seen the meet cute where the two leads hate each other at first before, but Poehler and Rudd approach it in a way that almost feels like they are trying to make each other laugh as much as the audience.
While there is a bevy of names you will recognize here (as well as almost every rom-com character you have ever been introduced to), it is also joked that New York City is the third main character in the film. Outside of an introductory sweeping shot, Wain doesn’t really showcase the city again which works to defuse this claim and show how They Came Together may look and sound like your average romantic comedy while constantly deflating the stereotypes it sets up.
The key is having the comedy come from the realism they inject into the different situations we have seen before. The soft lighting, beautiful people, perfectly designed apartments and classic score (even aptly named song titles!) all feel like this could be the start of another Nancy Meyer film, but They Came Together sets itself apart by playing everything slightly off.
Joe’s apartment is comically massive, a fact that is made clear when he and his live-in younger brother Jake (in a spot on turn from Max Greenfield) are talking to each other across the room and their voices echo off the expansive space. Molly has a cute and quirky apartment (to reflect how she herself is cute and quirky!), but it also looks like she is living in the pages of an Ikea catalog. There is a great bit with her and Rudd knocking over the same piece of furniture (filled with more and more on-the-nose items), but it is the less direct nods of ridiculousness (like the number of different types of hooks next to Molly’s front door) that add subtle layers of humor to the narrative and make the film more than just obvious mockery.
The film falters when it goes a bit too far outside the box with sudden bursts of violence or gross out moments and works best when playing within the rules of the genre and quietly poking fun at said rules. Wain wisely cuts back to the four friends at dinner when the main narrative starts spinning a bit too far out of control which helps put things back in context, but the real problem is how this narrative never has any real point to it. We get that this genre is full of fluff, but the genre continues to work because the films are generally driven by feelings that audiences can relate to (whether they want to admit to it or not).
They Came Together does a great job at creating the perfect space to put their slightly too aware, outlandish characters in, but it would have worked better if the narrative at the center of it also had a real purpose.
The Upside: Successful mocking of the genre without getting too scene or film specific; Poehler and Rudd’s comedic styles meld well here (and they do look like the perfect rom-com couple); supporting characters feel as much a part of the narrative as two leads; soft lighting, score, and song titles played serious which adds to the comedy
The Downside: No real meat or connection at certain of narrative making it difficult for narrative to feel like anything more than an exaggerated sketch and some scenes felt out of place mocking standard rom-com genre
On the Side: Poehler and Rudd got excited about doing the project after doing a table read of it at a comedy festival.