If the mission was to prove that “They Came Together” can make 83 minutes feel like an eternity, mission accomplished. But the conceit of “They Came Together” is to prove that by making fun of other romantic comedies, this film is smarter than most. In that mission “They Came Together” fails miserably. Directed by David Wain and written by Wain and Michael Showalter, “They Came Together” is almost beyond horrific. I say almost because of the singular appeal of its two co-stars, Amy Poehler and most especially Paul Rudd, both of whom deserve so very much better.
The movie begins promisingly enough, as over dinner with friends Karen and Kyle (Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader), Joel and Molly (Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler) recount the story of how they met. The two say their meeting is like a romantic comedy and as they provide the details, I feared it would be a remake of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan flick “You’ve Got Mail.” If only. Molly owns a candy store, Upper Sweet Side, and Joel works for a candy corporation with plans to put her store out of business. As they tell it, Molly and Joel were both coming out of relationships gone wrong when friends decide to fix them up. It’s hate at first meet when they collide into one another enroute to the same Halloween party. Hate quickly turns to love as the two find out they have much in common. As with all rom-coms, there are ups and downs in their relationship, but the situations and dialogue, in an effort to make fun of other romantic comedies, are so unrelentingly dumb and unfunny it boggles the mind, and only makes you wish you were actually watching “You’ve Got Mail.”
Karen and Kyle serve as the audience as the couple’s story unfolds. However, if they were really standing in for “us,” Bill Hader would have jumped up at dinner and slapped Paul Rudd silly, screaming, “What in God’s sake are you doing?” and then the real, smarter movie would have begun. And just when you think the film couldn’t possibly be any worse, it gives us a “Meet the Parents” scene in which Joel discovers that Molly’s parents are white supremacists in one of the most cringe inducing bits to hit screens this year. Or so I thought until it was followed by the ludicrous incident with Joel’s grandmother.
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are talented, smart comedic actors. Why either, especially Rudd, can’t seem to find material worthy of them, continues to be a mystery. But “They Came Together” is written so beneath them that they’d have to be standing on stilts to rise above the miserable writing.
Much of the film’s supporting cast…from Hader to Kemper to Cobie Smulders to Ed Helms to Kenan Thompson and many more…is assembled from “Saturday Night Live” and long-standing network comedies. All of them are more than capable of doing really terrific work and most of them have done so on their respective shows. But they need material from which to work and writers Wain and Showalter have given them nothing…zip…zilch…zero. Only Christopher Meloni as Joel’s boss gets one truly funny scene at the Halloween party. Truly appreciative, he takes the ball and runs with it.
I understand that “They Came Together” is meant to be a parody of…a satirical take on romantic comedies. But in order for that concept to work…for the film to be funny and stand on its own merits, it has to be clever. Repeating the same lines over and over again isn’t funny…it’s lazy. The “Pretty Woman” redux of shopping for the umpteenth time is no longer humorous or clever.
And what of New York City? The running gag throughout the film, on the closing credits and on the film’s posters is that “New York City plays such a central role in this story that it is almost like another character in the movie.” For as much as we see of the city, the film could have been filmed in LA or Ottawa. NYC should consider itself lucky. It is the only real player in this mess to escape “They Came Together” with its dignity intact.
This film is in theatres and available On Demand.