We’ve all seen the metro-centric New York City romantic comedy. It begins with Gershwin and aerial shots of Manhattan that stoke longing in the hearts of all who cannot live here, and stroke the egos of those who do. Writer/director David Wain’s self-deprecating comedy knows this formula all too well. So well, in fact, that he uses it as the ironic structure of his narrative.
They Came Together opens with two cosmopolitan couples swapping temperately amusing stories over a candlelit dinner. Our leading set is composed of Joel and Molly, played by the loveable Paul Rudd and the oafishly charming Amy Poehler. The two recount every detail of how they met with a self-aware veneer that is saccharine sweet.
All of the expected elements are present: Joel is handsome—but in a non-threatening way. Molly is just cute enough and tragically clumsy. He’s a big wig at a villainous candy corporation. She owns “Upper Sweet Side,” a charitable confection boutique. Joel and Molly meet at the Halloween party of mutual friends both dressed in the same costume, and they hate each other immediately. What follows is the overtly cliché tale of their on-and-off romance, peppered with the raunchy humor of the recent Seth Rogen sect.
As proven by this film, satire is truly one of the trickiest genres to master. What attempts to transcend the corny chick flick with a dose of self-reflexive dialogue (the characters explicitly state that if their story were a movie, it would begin with aerial shots of Manhattan, etc.) turns into a goulash of cheap laughs and has-been slapstick. It’s not that the film was born of a bad idea. In fact, its intentions shine brighter than its execution. With the relentless bombardment of unbelievable, cheesy rom-coms churned out every season, who wouldn’t like to see a fresh take, one that pokes fun at the suffocating structure of Jennifer Aniston’s bread and butter?
The most exploited technique Wain employs is exaggeration. Molly’s klutzy mishaps are inflated significantly. In a non-ironic movie, this character flaw would involve fumbles like tripping in the park and spilling coffee. In Molly’s world, it translates into falling down a flight of stairs and commencing a violent avalanche of shelved shoes. This works sometimes, but it grows tired, especially when a joke is dragged on for far too many miles.
What works, aside from Rudd and Poehler’s undeniable charisma, are certain nuggets of shock that most romantic comedies would be terrified to present to an audience. Take, for instance, a scene in which Joel meets Molly’s family, a perfectly polished, ivory carpet-walking nuclear clan… who happen to be white supremacists. It’s not a very PC moment, but it takes a huge risk with that in mind. In all honesty, this is the only scene I found genuinely funny in the whole movie. Gems like this make one wonder if there was more oddball and challenging humor that was crossed-out by studio notes. I’d love to see the original script.
It’s difficult to tire of Rudd no matter what he’s in, but you might have more fun heckling a Katherine Heigl movie, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style.