January 28, 2014



The writing team of David Wain and Michael Showalter (Wain directs) certainly knew that THEY CAME TOGETHER would be far from the first parody of romantic comedy movies to come along.  Date Movie opened back in 2008, Friends With Benefits, although it had other fish to fry, featured a dead-on film-within-the-film satire that starred Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, The Mindy Project pokes at the genre’s conventions whenever it has the chance, and so on.  So another feature-length shot at the same target–one about as hard to hit as a Rocky Mountain–was going to require some real inspiration.  They took a step in the right direction by casting a ringer, real-life rom-com star Paul Rudd, as one of the leads, and Amy Poehler, no stranger to the genre through Parks & Recreation, as the other.  (It helped that both actors go all the way back to 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer with the team.)

And that, unfortunately, is where their imagination ran out.  It’s not that They Came Together is devoid of laughs–with that cast and that premise, it would be hard to avoid them–but that they’re isolated and lazy.  Great movie parodies, of the Young Frankenstein and Airplane! ilk, love all the idiotic details of their models, and know how to just slightly tweak the cliches to find the hilarity behind them.  Crappy parodies like Scary Movie are just ramshackle collections of gags.  They Came Together doesn’t even seem to try to reach that first category.

The basic template is Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (which of course was itself a retread of a story that goes back at least to Hungarian theatre).  This time it’s Poehler as Molly, the movie’s version of Meg Ryan’s small store owner (here a candy confectionery rather than a bookstore), and Rudd as Joel, who like Tom Hanks represents the conglomerate who wants to put Molly out of business.  The movie is structured as Joel and Molly telling the story of their romance to another couple (Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader, with nothing to do but occasionally react).  Things begin brightly, with Rudd poking fun at his own “unthreatening” image and Poehler as an exaggerated Ryan-like klutz, but it’s immediately clear that Showalter and Wain have no interest in comic continuity or momentum–3 minutes after the gag is introduced, Molly stops bumping into things, and nothing Rudd says about his character comes back to figure into the story.

Instead, they throw celebrity cameos at us.  Look, it’s Ed Helms!  And Max Greenfield!  And Kenan Thompson!  And Jack McBreyer!  And Cobie Smulders!  Smulders and Greenfield have characters to play, after a fashion, as Joel’s ex and brother, and Wain/Showalter veterans Christopher Meloni and Michael Ian Black play his boss and foe.  (In one of those randomly fascinating juxtapositions that come from film festival scheduling, Teyonah Parris, excellent as a black student struggling with her racial identity in Dear White People, here is Poehler’s sassy black friend–practically a Dear White People gag itself.)  The rest are mostly there for name recognition.

There’s no internal logic to the comedy, just jokes thrown at the wall in the hope that some will stick (Meloni gets a diarrhea routine, Poehler has white supremacist parents).  Some do, but there’s no commitment to the material from the very fine actors or from the creators.  Even the movie’s look is slipshod, with photography by Tom Houghton that doesn’t begin to obscure the minimal budget.

They Came Together has a big-time studio behind it in Lionsgate and a summer release planned, so it could wind up as the highest-grossing movie shown at Sundance this year.  (Figuring in the marketing costs that accompany that kind of release, however, it may be far from the most profitable.)  Considering its auspices, and the amount of material it had to work with, there’s one rom-com convention ticketbuyers may feel is missing, at least for themselves:  a happy ending.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."