Joel is your typical 30-something guy: good-looking, well-paying corporate job, nice apartment, vaguely Jewish… but lacking in the inspiration and motivation department. He’s the perfect fixer-upper. Molly is a klutzy girl with a heart of gold. She lives in a colorful apartment, runs a non-for-profit candy store, and has a black friend. She’s perpetually single, but she isn’t giving up on finding true love. Then one Halloween party, Joel and Molly met, and boy-oh-boy did they hate each other at first, but then they realized they both had an affinity for fiction books, and they fell madly in love. Oh yeah, and there is a third character to their story, The City of New York.
The story of Joel and Molly is told in flashback to their dinner friends, Kyle (Bill Hader) and Karen (Ellie Kemper), when the subject of “How You Met” comes up. Kyle and Karen can boil their story down to a few articulate and well-chosen sentences, but Joel and Molly, their story is so silly, so unbelievable, that it would make for one of those really stupid romantic comedies. Kyle and Karen—unwisely—egg them on to tell it, and they do, in minute detail.
Joel and Molly’s story follows the plot points and beats of a legitimate rom-com so succinctly that it makes me wonder why we even fall for this crap in the first place. An early scene has Joel playing basketball with his four friends, each one perfectly representing a specific side of masculinity, all of which are in opposition to the others. Joel listens to all of their ideas and somehow finds a way to merge them all into a fully formed coherent idea that will no doubt propel him further than the rest of his singularly minded friends. A legitimate rom-com would use dialog and smiles to get this point across. A satire would mock it by stating the opposite while winking at the audience. They Came Together goes one step better by using stereotypical dialog, identifying it for what it is, spelling it out, and using the contrived illumination as the joke.
This is where They Came Together excels, and thankfully, maintains a high level of humor and self-awareness for its entire run time. From the first ridiculous joke with Joel trying to drink from a wine glass in a very unusual manner to the end credits, They Came Together is a relentless laugh riot that had me in stitches. Not every joke works (the Judge Judy one seemed half-baked), but it doesn’t matter. Wain and his co-writer Michael Showalter keep ’em coming and keep ’em coming fast and furious.
The first three minutes of They Came Together sums up every modern rom-com this side of Annie Hall. Cookie-cutter copies of the same typical white people with their hopes, dreams, and passions all boiled down into stupid, simple gestures that will apparently carry everyone through the hard times as well as the good. Some of these movies have moments, but the bulk of them are boring, and more and more of them are downright awful. So offensive that they play like a Paint By Numbers schematic that a screenwriter picked up from the plethora of ‘How To Write A…’ books that populate the Film/TV/Entertainment section of every Barnes & Noble. Too many of these movies are getting made, which makes director David Wain’s satire on the genre all the more necessary. Actually, satire isn’t a strong enough word; They Came Together is a complete and total deconstruction of a genre in the same amount of time that it would take to watch one of these pieces of crap.
In the essay, “Was It a Montage For You, Too, Dear?” critic Phillip Lopate dissects both the romantic montage and its current manifestation, the sex montage, “as a commercial for love.” He writes:
A typical romantic montage consists of shots of the couple walking through nature, preferably by a beach; laughing as they transport grocery sacks; gazing earnestly at each other in bed, seen from the shoulder up; confessing something serious on a park bench (dialogue the audience never hears); the windblown motorcycle shot, woman holding man around the tummy; more shoulders in bed; and the pièce de résistance of amorous fun—getting someone wet.
What Lopate correctly identifies is the simplistic way movies reduce unique and spectacular moments into a series of signposts that give the impression of romance. These montages are a current vocabulary in romantic comedies, but they are not something we should become too attached to. As Lopate further states, “When that greater honesty arrives, perhaps these two montage conventions can be retired, and even allowed to acquire the naïve charm of the obsolete transition—like calendar leaves self-ripping off a pad.”
So effectively does They Came Together render the romantic montage in all its stupid and simple glory that it seems pointless for future movies to use it earnestly. Sure, there will be more rom-coms rolled out by the studios to make an easy buck, and hopefully, a buck is all they will make, but one day we might look back and identify They Came Together as the death rattle of the romantic comedy in its current form.
They Came Together (2014)
Directed by: David Wain
Written by: David Wain and Michael Showalter
Produced by: Michael Showalter
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black
Lionsgate, Rated R, Running time 83 minutes, Released June 27, 2014