' ' Cinema Romantico: They Came Together

Monday, July 21, 2014

They Came Together

One of the most memorable movie-watching experiences of my life happened on some nameless Iowa spring night in the early 80’s. It was a seemingly endless evening of thunder and lightning and tornado watches and even the occasional tornado siren, and with the siren always threatening to beckon, I was allowed to stay up and lay on the couch and watch a movie as we waited. The movie was “Airplane!”, the epic spoof movie of Team ZAZ. I had never laughed so hard. And here’s the thing, I did not – could not – get all the references. I had never seen “Zero Hour” nor “Airport” nor even my future beloved “From Here To Eternity.” And it didn’t matter. When Robert Hays parades into the disco club, it’s a nod to “Saturday Night Fever”, sure, which I had not seen, but the sequence also breaks free of the pan to do its own thing. “Airplane!” was a landmark not simply because it skewered something with such specificity, but because it invited everyone in to share the laughs.

David Wain’s “They Came Together” seeks to spoof the the romantic comedy, a once mighty genre which has lately devolved more or less into a minefield of clichés. To be fair, Wain is not simply cutting and pasting whole bits of other films with minor “comic” addendums like the Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedburg Chop Shop. Instead he gathers up the bounty of nauseatingly familiar rom com tropes - your Meet Cutes, your etc. - and then insistently presents every last one of them in such a way as to make their obviousness the punchline.

Framing the film as a dinner table tall tale of "How did you two meet?", Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) tell the story of their kinda, sorta true love over dinner with friends. A synopsis should go here, of course, but a synopsis is virtually pointless if you've seen any Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson film of the last decade, or "The Shop Around The Corner" for the classics majors. They begin in the midst of faux conflict. The conflict cedes as they fall for one another. The false crisis intrudes. The happy ending arrives on schedule. Well known actors keep turning up for cameos. So on and so forth, but with jokes that go from tame to lame to clever to medium raunchy to raunchy to utter ridiculous. And while a few of the jokes are wholly original, like a Halloween costume gone wrong, the majority of them simply involve demonstrating a particular rom com cliche and then acknowledging out loud the cliche being demonstrated. This phenomenon becomes "They Came Together's" most prominent motif, and it's not that these moments wreak of being self-impressed, though they do, but that pointing out an absurdity is not the same as being absurd. It's like watching a screenwriting manual that tells you what not to do being acted out in front of you.

As a deconstruction of a genre, "They Came Together" really doesn't go far enough. It assumes that by simply identifying the genre deficiencies, it's done its job; and that would it be okay if it provided comic analysis or took the deficiencies and then spun them off into something new - a la "Airplane!" Instead they just lay there while the actors smirk. It's not a critique and it's not a spoof. It's just smug.


Alex Withrow said...

I enjoyed parts of the film - yeah, that Halloween bit was priceless. Fuckin' Meloni, man. But as a whole, the film didn't add up to too much for me. Always fun to see Michael Shannon doing crazy shit, though.

Nick Prigge said...

I'll never be sad to see Michael Shannon turn up in anything, that's for sure. His presence, though, was just another symptom of the movie. Like, him appearing was the joke and then they had no plan for what to do with him afterwards.