Romuntic Coomedy: They Came Together

06/18/2014 4:00 AM |

They Came Together
Directed by David Wain
Opens June 27

A romantic comedy that rips into romantic-comedy formula, this absurdist riff from the Wet Hot American Summer crew is a weirder endeavor than mere spoof—a sort of inside-out movie, perhaps. Lampooning a specific strain of adult-contemporary entertainment that doesn’t fully exist anymore, They Came Together sticks closely to the template of You’ve Got Mail, which was itself a remake of 1940’s Shop Around the Corner, as well as a bid to rebottle the Hanks-Ryan “chemistry”—here, Paul Rudd’s Joel is an employee of the monolithic Candy Systems and Research, which is threatening to close down the quaint Upper Sweet Side shop run by Amy Poehler’s Molly. As the main couple insist repeatedly in the story-within-a-story frame, their tale (like a movie, only it’s real!) just so happens to have a third main character: New York City itself.

This world manages to feel both unhinged and totally flat—characters are assigned jobs and apartments, but all the details, from the foreground behavior to the background decor, seem off. (Rudd lives with his brother, played by New Girl’s Max Greenfield, in a stuffy man-cave decorated with globes and road signs; the brother, introduced as a layabout entrepreneur, winds up working as a cabbie.) The additional supporting players (Christopher Meloni, Ed Helms, and Cobie Smulders, among others) generally do a good job at patrolling this space between loopy and homogenous, but nothing distracts much from the splendor of Rudd’s performance—playing it straight, he scans as oblivious to the idiocy of his surroundings rather than a willing participant in it. (Poehler, leaning more heavily on physical comedy—her character is an extravagant klutz—falls into the latter register.)

The State and Stella alums Wain and cowriter Michael Showalter—whose last film collaboration, Wanderlust, also starring Rudd, was a romantic studio comedy (and a more satisfying, and no less amusing, movie than They Came Together)—set up several gross-out gags and amplified pratfalls, but most of the humor here springs from the mangling of clichés. The movie often taps into the type of fast-and-loose nonsense reeled off by Michael Ian Black (another costar here) in The State’s Captain Monterey Jack Gen X PSA parodies: there are copious repetitions (Joel’s friends yell “Swish!” as they throw up bricks during a game of basketball), inversions of sentences (“Take a jerk, you hike”), and slight mispronunciations of well-known trademarks and names (iTones, Amazong, etc.). The result is a comedy that gleefully risks audience aggravation in establishing a surprising undertow—this New York looks like a dumbly sunny place, but it often sounds like these people are stuck in a prison of language.