They Came Together – Review

 

There’s an episode of cult favourite TV show Community in which the central character of Jeff Winger gets into an argument on the subject of religion. “To me, religion is like Paul Rudd.” he says, “I see the appeal, and I would never take it away from anyone. But I would also never stand in line for it.” Glibness aside, the man had a point. Paul Rudd may have been a part of some rather good comedies over the years, but he’s also had his share of pretty poor projects as well; and is still far from being a “name on the poster actor”, simply because not enough moviegoers seem to know who he is beyond “Mike from Friends”. As for Amy Poehler meanwhile, forget about it. You could physically walk Poehler down Regent Street and you’d make it at least five minutes before anybody this side of the Atlantic recognised her. 

 

Head Stateside however, and things are very different. Rudd is part of a comedy institution, Poehler is the driving force behind one of US TV’s most revered comedies, and They Came Together will inevitably become a well-received piece of spoofery aimed squarely at the likes of the cloy rom-coms Matthew McConaughey wasted the better part of his career on. Whether it goes down as well with British audiences, I’m hesitant to guess; but for the most part, I’ll side with the inevitable American response. When it works, They Came Together is refreshingly glib and charmingly self-aware; but in the rare moments in which it isn’t, it is a tad trying.

 

Rudd and Poehler play long-time couple Joel and Molly, who – over dinner with friends – recount the story of how they met and fell in love in years gone by. Filled with meta-jokes, circular humour, fan nods and pop culture references, it’s very much a high end romcom for 2014; it owes a huge debt to the Saturday Night Live roots of its cast, and indeed to 90’s spin-off movie Wayne’s World, and yet, it’s not brilliant. It’s charming, it’s quirky, and it’s very likeable; but it’s not brilliant.

 

As the leads, Rudd and Poehler make the film work entirely by presenting a likeable yet believable interpersonal dynamic in which the audience can easily invest and be entertained; both are old hats at this point in playing the underdog lead and so their pairing here is an easy one, paying off almost instantly with a level of charm that will win over even the staunchest critic. However, while Rudd and Poehler are in sync with the movie’s creative forces and the tone being aimed for, the same cannot really be said for more than a few of the supporting cast – and it’s there that the film truly starts to come apart. While the nod-nod wink-wink tone is something,, that Rudd can effortlessly pull off, New Girl’s Max Greenfield – for example – struggles with it inordinately, his delivery so stilton and forced that only the film being a comedy is enough to prevent booing. 

 

There’s a helluva cast at play in They Came Together, some great humour at work, yet the balance is offset to just enough of a degree that it prevents a rather enjoyable 30 Rockesque comedy from becoming a great one. The film initially opens with a strong emphasis on meta-humour, a brilliant sense of self-satire, and although it’s a great way to carry on, the script soon gives way to a mish-mash of other comedic styles that simply conflict and prevent the material from ever cementing what it truly is. For example, a second act visual gag about a waiter with a pole up his backside feels far too much in the vein of Mel Brooks-level slapstick to really fit, just one example of a level of slapstick (outside of Poehler’s character) which doesn’t work on any level. Ditto for any of the film’s observational humour, all of which merely provides an awkward distraction from an undervalued concept and some genuinely funny dialogue-driven character scenes.

 

David Wain’s direction is rather pedestrian, yet is forgivable for providing  stability in a film which is otherwise quite uneven. Meanwhile, Matt Novack and Craig Wedren provide the four hundredth example this year of the agonisingly cliched “plinky plunky comedy score”, while – true to form – you could bypass most of the movie by simply looking for US TV star cameos. There’s a brilliant yet imbalanced movie in They Came Together, but that imbalance tips the scales in such a way as to obscure the view of that brilliance. Rudd and Poehler genuinely are a comedy dream team, but just like the pairing of Rudd and Tina Fey in last year’s Admission, the material has simply come second to the casting. 

 

 

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.

 

In it
Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders

Behind it
David Wain




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