Hey, Judge Erich Asperschlager!...Thanks.
"You look like you've had a bad day."
Back in 2001, David Wain and Michael Showalter tweaked the '80s camp movie in the comedy Wet Hot American Summer—a movie that bombed on release before rising to cult classic status. Wain followed his directorial debut with well-regarded comedies including Role Models and Wanderlust, but none reached the heights of Wet Hot American Summer.
Romantic comedy sendup They Came Together is the funniest movie in years. With an insanely talented ensemble of comedians, it combines genre parody, sight gags, and surreal humor into something both familiar and fresh.
Facts of the Case
Molly (Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation) is the quirky owner of a quirky candy shop that gives all its profits to charity. Joel (Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man) is an executive at a monolithic candy corporation CSR that drives quirky candy shops out of business. After Joel's shallow girlfriend (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother) cheats on him with his smarmy office rival (Michael Ian Black), his best friend Paul (Jason Mantzoukas) tries to set him up with his wife's (Melanie Lynskey, Two and a Half Men) best friend, a quirky candy shop owner named—guess who?
From their early days on MTV's The State, Wain and Showalter have shown themselves to be masters of the surreal. They Came Together isn't for the non sequitur-averse. It's for people who appreciate random John Stamos cameos and seeing someone sneeze their subtitles across a dining room table. Like all great comedies it builds momentum, piling jokes upon jokes until everything big and small gets a laugh. Sure, it's funny to see two characters dressed as Ben Franklin walk headlong into each other, but many of my favorite jokes are blink-and-you'll-miss-it gags. They Came Together had me from the opening scene where Paul Rudd opens his mouth comically wide to drink from a wine glass a split second before the camera cuts away.
Rudd and Poehler are phenomenal as stand-ins for every rom-com pairing in the past 25 years. Their star power is a big reason the movie got funding. They are joined onscreen by a who's-who cavalcade of modern TV and film comedians, including returning Wet Hot players Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, and Christopher Meloni; and newcomers The League's Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, New Girl's Max Greenfield as Joel's aimless younger brother, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer and Saturday Night Live's Keenan Thompson as two of his pals, Mad Men's Teyonah Parris as Molly's sassy co-worker Wanda, The Hangover's Ed Helms as her smitten accountant, and The Office's Ellie Kemper and Adventureland's Bill Hader as the married couple who listen politely as Joel and Molly recount their tale.
I take it as evidence of future cult status that They Came Together has gotten mixed reviews. We can ignore the people who just didn't find it funny, and those who rented it expecting an actual romantic comedy. Humor is subjective, and reading is hard. I'm most baffled by critics who complain the subject matter is too dated to skewer, as if the film's sole purpose is making fun of the genre. There's nothing funny about a movie laughing at how dumb other movies are—just ask anyone who's seen Not Another Any Number of Movies. What's funny is seeing Amy Poehler dressed like a chimney sweep for no reason, or Paul Rudd singing into a shower head aimed directly into his mouth, or Ken Marino missing baskets by a mile while yelling "swish!"
Saying that They Came Together does for the rom-com what Wet Hot American Summer did for the camp movie makes for a good pull quote, but it misses the point. Sure, Wain and Showalter's latest builds off the tired tropes of the meet-cute '90s, but They Came Together isn't a simple parody. The familiar beats are the foundation, but they aren't the jokes. They Came Together dismantles bad Hollywood movies, then uses those parts to hilarious effect. Plenty of lazy scripts give the lead a group of friends who personify different aspects of his personality. This movie has those friends describe their traits explicitly during a cliche pick-up basketball game. Lots of movies include a tonally dissonant scene of two people arguing about nothing to manufacture dramatic tension. They Came Together does it in a brilliant way that ensures you will definitely remember the tire swing.
They Came Together is a movie you'll want to watch more than once, so I'm glad to report the Blu-ray is worth buying. The 1.78:1/1080p HD presentation is spotless, capturing the look of many a New York romantic comedy, with atmospheric lighting, bright colors, and sharp detail. It certainly doesn't look like it was shot on a "microbudget" (the film's actual studio designation). The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio doesn't skimp either, combining pastiche Hollywood pop songs and a peppy movie score with crisp dialogue in a warm hug of a mix that keeps the jokes front and center.
They Came Together begs for a comprehensive collection of extras, and this Blu-ray delivers. The list may not look long but each bonus feature helps fill in the story behind the film, adding up to a fascinating look at how comedy sausage is made:
• Audio commentary with co-writers David Wain and Michael Showalter: An affable, low key chat between the longtime partners about a movie they began way back in 2002, going into detail about the production, the script, and material they cut from the finished film.
• SF Sketchfest Table Read (1:43:58): A feature-length table read of an early draft of the script, filmed during San Francisco Sketchfest in 2012. The table read features many of the actors who appear in the film (although not all in the same roles), along with Beth Dover, Rachel Harris, Erinn Hayes, Phil LaMarr, Joe Lo Truglio, and Marguerite Moreau. The video and audio quality aren't the best, but the subpar presentation is an acceptable trade-off to get an essential piece of the movie's history.
• Deleted Scenes (34:23): A whopping 32 deleted scenes, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes—with longer versions of scenes that stayed in the movie, alternate takes, and excised subplots, including Jake's bacon boots and CSR corporate espionage.
• "They All Came Together" (23:59): An above-average featurette that provides an entertaining overview of the film's production, as told by its writers, cast, and crew.
• Theatrical Trailer (2:24)
Don't be confused by the discussion around They Came Together. Although it sends up romantic comedy tropes, this isn't a mindless spoof in the vein of a Friedberg/Seltzer "movie." For co-writers David Wain and Michael Showalter, the inspirations are evident but the jokes are all them—sight gags and surreal humor that will be familiar to fans of their first feature film, Wet Hot American Summer. With a killer cast and air-tight script They Came Together is one of the funniest comedies in recent memory, well-deserving of its future cult comedy status.
Just say I love it. Not guilty!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2014 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.