They Came Together & the Deconstruction of the Rom-Com

July 16, 2014
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Romantic comedies have a bad rep with most guys. It makes sense, too, since they’re a majorly formulaic genre that plays constantly repeated movie stereotypes. But then again, so do most Hollywood movies. So what do romantic comedies have that seem to send most dudes running for the hills?

I guess it’s because most thriller or action films, although usually equally predictable, at least have more dynamic moments that tend to appeal to most guys better. Now, it’s easy to assume they’re all the same, but I think that happens with every genre. I, for one, am a big fan of good romantic comedies. Some of my favorite movies are rom-coms with substance. It doesn’t have to be a shitty Matthew McConaughey that tells you the same story all over again. Classics like When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall or The Princess Bride are all romantic comedies that happen to be smart, funny, entertaining and can be watched dozens of times without losing their magic.

In essence, They Came Together, the new David Wain film, is to romantic comedies what Wet Hot American Summer – another Wain-directed film that was also co-written by Michael Showalter – was to summer camp movies: a fun way to mock all the stereotypes of a movie archetype without any sense of trying to play it straight. It’s a parody and it will leave you in no doubt about it.

Anyone from my generation who also grew up watching The State, and kept up with what this group has been doing, knows what to expect, but I wonder what happens if you walk into this wanting to watch a romantic comedy.

The thing that’s always stood out for me about Showalter/Wain films is that they’re lowbrow comedies made by highbrow comedians. It’s an appreciation of the simplest and silliest side of comedy, done well.

In a nutshell, They Came Together messes with all the notorious elements of the Nora Ephron-type of movie – the plot is loosely based on the most ridiculous things about You’ve Got Mail – but it takes cues from tons of stuff we see in many romantic comedies, including some of the best Allen and Reiner/Crystal work.

Rom-com clichés are milked all over the place, and references abound. The characters immediately let you know who they are and why they are perfect for a “classic love story.” There’s a total sense of self-awareness in Amy Poehler’s and Paul Rudd’s performances. There’s never a feeling they want to connect with you. They will purposefully ruin any kind of emotional connection, so that you’ll still feel in on the joke. There’s no sappiness, just absurd humor. From the beginning – which shows Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper as a couple dining with our leading characters, in an Allen-esque recounting of their classic love story while having dinner – all they do is caricature the genre and give you all the obvious clues to solve it yourself. In a way, the plot is not important; you always knew the plot. What’s cool about They Came Together is the way it never takes itself seriously enough to become what they were lampooning in the first place. They just keep throwing absurd and childish humor to it. Which, if it’s not clear to you by now, I don’t mean as a negative thing at all; quite the opposite.

The thing I love about this is, unlike many parodies we see in Hollywood today, Wain and Showalter’s comedies tend to have an earnestness – towards the parody they’re making, not the “story” – that get you to like most characters, even if they’re too distant from us when trapped in absurdity.

Maybe that’s why they connect with people and have created a cult following with most creative endeavors they’ve taken. Even when mocking mercilessly, this is a kind of parody that can only come from a place of love. You get the unmistakable sense that Wain loves rom-coms for all their good and bad qualities. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine.

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