Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler stride through rom-com cliches in the lampoon "They Came Together." Credit: Lionsgate Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler stride through rom-com cliches in the lampoon "They Came Together."
Credit: Lionsgate

‘They Came Together’
Director: David Wain
Stars: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“They Came Together” is a parody of romantic-comedies, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd. Much more importantly, it’s the latest from David Wain, the alum of “The State” (the one who really only mostly wrote instead of also performing) who went on to direct the beloved “Wet Hot American Summer.” Here are four ways in which it’s very good — and also very slightly disappointing:

Rom-coms don’t really need savaging


Let’s get the not great part out of the way first: It’s not exactly breaking news to say that romantic-comedies follow a tired, haggard formula. Endless “think pieces” exist besmirching the genre’s name, be it their fondness for cliches or the way they convince their ardent viewers of comforting lies they think will apply to real life. In fact, “They Came Together” would almost be edgier if it came to the honor of rom-coms, defending them against a hatred that’s about as weary as the adoration they undyingly inspire.

David Wain, seen directing "They Came Together," has always preferred to be behind the scenes rather than performing. Credit: Lionsgate David Wain, seen directing "They Came Together," has always preferred to be behind the scenes rather than performing.
Credit: Lionsgate

 

But this is David Wain


Wain may be most cherished for “The State” and “Wet Hot American Summer,” but it’s arguably his straight, non-parody movies that are more inspired. “Role Models” and the underrated “Wanderlust” found the filmmaker and comedy writer trying to tell a realistic-ish story set in a world vaguely recognizable to our own. Best of all, he was working Rudd at his grumpiest, and Rudd being miserable, as it turns out, is even more enjoyable than Rudd being goofy and sunny, as he is in “They Came Together.” There’s nothing here on the order of Rudd’s snappy insults from “Role Models” or the should-be-more-famous monologue of hyper-sexuality that he delivers in “Wanderlust” — much less the day-trip sequence from “Wet Hot.”

Ed Helms (with scarf) files some decent yuks in "They Came Together." Credit: Lionsgate Ed Helms (with scarf) files some decent yuks in "They Came Together."
Credit: Lionsgate

But funny’s funny


The plot basically follows “You’ve Got Mail,” only with Poehler having a far more twee job than did Meg Ryan (instead of an independent bookstore, it’s a candy shop that gives out its wares for free). The lampooning is strictly in the style of Zucker-Abraham-Zucker, with gags fired early and often or piling high on top of each other. Some are familiar: Poehler is cutely clumsy, meaning shoeboxes are always falling on her or she’s tumbling down stairs without suffering serious injury. Others are far loopier, the ones that only Wain could come up with, as in an extended repetition gag that plays on the idea of “Tell me about it” even being a phrase people use. Sometimes the jokes reveal more than mere disdain for rom-coms.

Christopher Meloni is at a Halloween party in a robe holding a condom for reasons best left unspoiled in "They Came Together." Credit: Lionsgate Christopher Meloni is at a Halloween party in a robe holding a condom for reasons best left unspoiled in "They Came Together."
Credit: Lionsgate

It gets a bit weirdly dark here and there


This is in no way a serious movie, but Wain has a certain anger and anxiety that, when they poke through his films’ silly surface, prove winning. Every now and then the humor turns borderline bleak. The framing device, with Rudd and Poehler, now together, recounting their tale to a couple (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper), routinely turns hostile or awkward. Meanwhile the best gag — which comes at the end and involves a truly leftfield guest star, neither of which we’ll spoil — is so grim that it threatens to reveal how crazy the film could have been had Wain let it. It’s still pretty nuts; it’s just never transcendent and sometimes downright familiar. But, as we said, funny’s funny.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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