They Came Together (2014)

Director: David Wain
Writer: Michael Showalter
Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black, Michaela Watkins, Jack McBrayer, Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino, Norah Jones, Adam Scott, John Stamos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Michael Shannon.

When I read the comment section on Netflix before beginning to watch They Came Together I was expecting a train-wreck of a movie. Usually so effusive, the other users had a special kind of vitriol directed towards this film and most had abandoned it early on. And I must admit, I felt very similarly. So much of it was cringe-worthy and not in a British comedy sort of way, rather, the bad kind: the type of cringe that makes you uncomfortable because the comedy is not making you laugh, the type that makes you embarrassed for all people involved in the project. Then the third act happened, and the film saved itself. But let’s back up a little.

David Wain, of Wet Hot American Summer fame, directs this movie based on his own screenplay. The premise is that this will be a spoof, a satire, of romantic comedies – it will be making fun of all the tropes and cliches that have become standard in this cinematic format. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem to have confidence that the viewers will understand that it is poking fun, so, with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop some jokes get repeated no less than five or six times (a scene in a bar lasts so long and is so unfunny that one has to wonder if a pot-fueled writing session ran awry and nobody caught it).

The story is simple enough. Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd play the couple in question. They are having dinner with another couple and when asked how they met they begin to retell, in overly specific detail, the tale of their meet-cute. The inspiration of this spoof seems to be mostly derived from the Hanks-Ryan 90s film You’ve Got Mail (small business owner and bad, but no really all that bad, business executive with a dream threatens her livelihood). The territory is too familiar at times, and delves into overly facile jokes and gags that seem over the top in sitcoms, let alone a movie with a strong cast.

And what a cast it is. Any casual television viewer will be consistently declaring throughout the movie: “Hey it’s those people from The Office, and that guy from Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock, and SNL, and…”, you get the point. Most of these extremely talented individuals are wasted, they seem to be doing the filmmakers a favor rather than having actual characters to play. A notable exception, though, is Christopher Meloni (of Law & Order: SVU fame and a previous collaborator of Wain’s) who elevates each scene he’s in, no matter what he is tasked with doing; even arguably the grossest part of the movie is carried off with charm in his hands.

When usually other films tend to fall apart, movies with great premises but no good plan on how to end, the third act suddenly takes on a refreshing and actually hilarious turn. New life is breathed into the staleness that the viewer was experiencing. The comedy gets suddenly cruder, the barbs shot between the cast become sharper, and the point of view starts focusing. Poehler and Rudd do the best they can with the material and if I kept watching until this movie got good is mostly due to them and their strengths as actors and comedians.

I can’t fully recommend this project, but the ending was surprisingly gratifying in spite of a pretty terrible and inauspicious beginning.

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