They Came Together (2014)

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I think David Wain is great. He’s been involved in tons of hilarious things – “Stella”, “Wainy Days”, and “Childrens Hospital”, to name a few. Of his directing work, I love “Role Models” and think “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Ten” had brilliant moments, so I’m right in the target audience for this. With him, Michael Showalter as co-writer, and a cast crammed with America’s best comic talent, it could not tick any more pre-viewing boxes.

At about the twenty minute mark, I paused this, turned to my wife and said “do they need to beat every single joke into the ground?” If you wanted to, you could stop reading there and you’d have all the information you need. The gist of it is, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are a couple, relating the story of how they became so to their friends Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader. They mention how it’s like a bad romcom and refer to themselves as those clichés – she works in a charming little sweet shop, and he works for CSR, the world’s biggest sweet conglomerate, and their story has every single roadblock and wacky misadventure you’ve ever seen in a rom-com. And I mean every one.

The cast list is absolutely amazing. Aside from the four of them, we have Max Greenfield, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, and Christopher Meloni; Michael Shannon, Adam Scott and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, and Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins pop in too. Among many others. That is close to a comedy dream team, and they all give it their best. Which is why the fact the material gives them no laughs at all is so incredibly disappointing.

A character commenting on the action as it’s going on can work, I think. I feel like it works better when there’s only one or maybe two people behaving like that; when you’ve got the entirety of the cast telling the viewer about the romcom cliché they’re working with at that moment, all the damn time, it becomes so tiring that it eventually just turns into white noise. And there’s a lot of times when that is the only joke, so great swathes of the film go by and I’m sat there in stony-faced silence. Add that to the fact that they’re mocking those romcom clichés at the same time as using them, and you’re left wondering just what exactly the point of this is.

If this entire film had been done, exactly the same, by a slightly less well-known cast and had been written / directed by Friedberg and Setzer (the guys behind all those awful genre spoof movies) then you can absolutely guarantee it would have been slammed by the critics. Yet the entire cast and crew coast on their accumulated goodwill, and a film which my wife didn’t laugh at once and I laughed maybe three times at gets great ratings (currently 69% on Rotten Tomatoes).

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It treats its “hilarious” observations as if it’s the first film to ever poke fun at rom-coms, when “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally…” (to name but two) have a lot more to say about the genre itself, operating from inside it, than this does. It seems to think that just noticing a cliché is enough, that you don’t need to bother with funny material or doing something original with the cliché or anything like that. It seems so weird to waste an amazing cast on something like this. It’s almost as if they don’t think you’ll get it, so keep reminding you you’re watching a parody every ten seconds or so.

There are a few good bits, and non-coincidentally they’re when they go off-book and just try to make something funny. Rudd’s encounter with his grandmother and Christopher Meloni’s extended bit about soiling his superhero outfit are fantastic, because they’re not trying to be incredibly tired parodies, and have no-one in them saying out loud “look at this romcom cliché, look at it, this is why you should laugh”.

This film drags. I paused it for a cup of tea, thinking I had maybe 10 minutes to go and it was barely half over. The incessant reminding you’re watching a parody, rather than just doing the parodying, isn’t a good idea for a decently paced film it seems. Wain and some of the cast of this are involved in “Childrens Hospital”, the hilarious Adult Swim parody of hospital dramas. Those shows come in, minus adverts, at 11 minutes and are just about perfect. This film, at 83 minutes that feels like 150, ought to have been a great deal shorter. The blame on this one has to go on Wain (as director / co-writer) and Showalter as the other co-writer, I’m afraid.

Rating: thumbs down

 

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