You don’t have to be a romantic comedy aficionado for much of They Came Together to feel very familiar. If you’ve seen only a few then you’re still likely to recognise most of the set-ups. That’s because David Wain’s new comedy is an unabashed assault on the genre, affectionately spoofing every moment of the will they/won’t they formula that guides Hollywood’s conveyor belt productions. It’s big, brash and right on the money. Oh, and it’s pretty darn funny too.
Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd play Molly and Joel, the happy couple narrating the story of how they came to be together. After chuckling for a while at how much it sounds like a corny romantic comedy, they launch into a full retelling from the first meeting where they inevitably end up in a row to the final declarations of love. Along the way they get to deadpan through a number of absurd scenarios that skilfully pick apart the standard formula with sly nods to the output of genre greats like Nora Ephron.
There may ostensibly be a romance knocking around the film somewhere but this is really a guided tour through the romcom field deconstructing all the standard stages. Molly and Joel are the perfectly stereotyped couple; one cute, quirky and clumsy who makes a living running a small candy store, the other handsome, kind and non-threatening yet in the pay of an evil corporate giant. They’re surrounded by deliberately one-dimensional friends and family members and a gamut of ex partners who are either nice and dull or sexy and cruel.
With this to work from, Wain draws constant laughs from physical comedy and bizarre one-liners while occasionally straying into more controversial territory to expose the rigid formula at play. Every now and again one of them will utter a swearword unbecoming of the frothy world they inhabit and the less that’s said about Joel’s relationship with his grandmother the better.
In their verve to send up romantic comedies, Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter did forget one important element though. What makes the best in the genre so beloved is a strong connection between the main couple. Molly and Joel never develop this because they’re too busy nudging the audience in the ribs before revealing the next joke. This reduces cohesiveness leaving They Came Together more a series of funny moments than a complete film.
Still, it’s primarily a comedy and it succeeds very nicely on that front. The romance appears to have been forgotten somewhere along the way but there is only really one question that needs to be asked. Do you like your comedy funny? If the answer is yes, They Came Together is the one for you.