If there are any two people primed and ready for a good rom-com parody, it’s these two bitter queens. Many a Saturday or Sunday afternoon has been spent on the couch, covered in cats and wine, ripping into the latest Lifetime Television for Women/Katherine Heigl/Nora Ephron offering with gusto. We were made for a movie like this. Unfortunately, this one didn’t have the bite it needed to be an effective parody.
Good, intelligent parody is an incredibly tough thing to pull off in a film comedy. First, because good parody requires a certain level of accuracy in order for it to be understandable and recognizable as the thing it’s parodying. Second, because the closer you get to accurately portraying that which you’re parodying the less funny it tends to be, because you’re essentially becoming that which you’re parodying.
This is the major problem with director David Wain’s They Came Together, starring everyone’s imaginary boyfriend Paul Rudd and everyone’s imaginary best friend Amy Poehler. You couldn’t ask for two better people to take these roles on, because they already tend to embody the character types they’re parodying, and while they both bring their A game – and their considerable chemistry with each other – to the proceedings, the result is more clever than funny.
Every single rom-com cliche you can think of is here, from her candy store to his big corporate job; from her sassy black friend to his basketball playing (while talking about their relationships, naturally) guy friends; from her disapproving older sister to his layabout younger brother;from the multiple shots of the Manhattan skyline to the CONSTANT reiterating that “New York City is the 3rd character in our love story,” nothing is missed and everything comes in for a skewering. Even the set design cleverly and subtly apes the conventions. She comes home to a ridiculously, naively girly house, painted in colors from an Easter basket and populated with a half-dozen or so rattan plant shelves ready to tip over at the first sign of sexual activity, while he’s shown discussing his feeling with his brother in his exposed-brick loft, complete with vintage pinball machine and random clusterings of globes and traffic signs. For character tropes, there’s also the respective best friends, who are married to each other and constantly pushing our two leads together, as well as an evil but bumbling corporate boss (a wasted, but still hot despite the terrible toupee Christopher Meloni), and a beautiful but cold ex-girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) who works in the fashion industry and responds to I-love-yous with “I admire your spirit.”
But when you bring in every single cliche for the kind of gentle and subtle skewering the movie tries for, there are times when it all becomes indistinguishable from any other bad romantic comedy. There are portions of the movie where everyone involved seems to have collectively understood this and randomly decided to go really broad, in a “someone makes out with their grandmother” or “someone shits their pants” or “someone gets shot in the face” manner – straight out of left field. It’s occasionally funny, but in every case, it was a total needle-scratch of a moment.
In fact, there were few real laugh-out-load moments, which was a huge disappointment with these two leads. Instead, we get a series of mildly-chuckle-out-loud (MCOL?) moments, especially when the film points out the lazy shorthand of the rom-com genre. New York City is constantly reduced to silly, Nora Ephron or Carrie Bradshaw-esque buzzwords, settings and sayings, from random interjections about muffins, subways and museums, to a Jewish person selling pickles out of a barrel on a street corner to Amy telling the world that New York is her boyfriend. Similarly, in a very brief scene set in Boston (complete with “Pahking” signs and “BOSTON TERRIERS FOR SALE” banners), all the background extras randomly blurt out things like “Ben Affleck! and “Sox!” When the movie takes its aim at that kind of narrative laziness, it seems to find its voice and it’s reason for existing, but these moments are few and far between. It’s all mildly entertaining (mostly because of the two leads), but too often comes off like either an extended Saturday Night Live sketch or an actual (and bad) romantic comedy.
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate Pictures]