Rom-com Send Up ‘They Came Together’ Is the Very Thing It Wants to Ridicule

Things fall apart

Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in They Came Together.
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in They Came Together.

Summer silliness continues at the speed of lightning with They Came Together, a ponderous spoof of movie rom-coms that plummets stupidity to a new low even by Hollywood standards. Except for Paul Rudd, a funny, charming bloke with a fatal inability to choose screenplays that matter or even make sense, the entire cast hails from television and shows it. The direction by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) appears to have been phoned in from a moving bus. Even when it approaches the “stuff you can’t get away with on Saturday Night Live humor level it aims for, the dialogue by Mr. Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter is so filthy it can’t be repeated. This movie will never be shown on airplanes.

(0/4 stars)

Written by: Michael Showalter and David Wain
Directed by:
David Wain
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler and Bill Hader
Running time: 83 min.

Mr. Rudd and Amy Poehler (the only bright spot on TV’s Parks and Recreation) play Joel and Molly. The entire movie is told over a boring dinner as they attempt to recreate their interminable, cliché-riddled story for another couple (TV veterans Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper). Molly sees Joel as “handsome but in a non-threatening way, vaguely but not overtly Jewish.” He sees Molly as the kind of cute, klutzy girl that can drive you a little bit crazy. To prove his point, there’s a madly contrived flashback to one of their earliest dates for coffee. “I’ll have a low-fat sugar-free banana yogurt muffin,” she says, “but if they don’t have that, I’ll have half a poppy seed muffin. They can take out the poppy seeds and heat it up. If they can’t heat it up, then leave half the poppy seeds in and sprinkle the other half of the poppy seeds on half of a blueberry muffin and then cut both halves in half and throw them both away. In either scenario, I want a lemon chocolate loaf, but it must be shrink-wrapped and more importantly, it must smell more like lemon than chocolate.”   

Instead of doing what most sane people would do and run for the exit, Joel craves more self-abuse. They meet cute when they both show up at the same Halloween party dressed like Benjamin Franklin, and the movie intends to keep the parody going, even if it means making it up scene by scene. Molly owns a small, whimsical candy shop, unaware that Joel is a corporate raider assigned to close her down to make room for a big super store across the street that will run her out of business. But the beat goes on in a frantic attempt to stretch a 60-second idea hatched in a routine Monday morning Hollywood conference-room barnstorming session into an 83-minute movie that goes nowhere. 

In a script labored to the point of desperation, they talk about Communism, pap smears, Pokémon pajamas, bedtime masturbation, the Brooklyn Heights promenade and yoga vs. Pilates. They slog their way through the typical New York falling-in-love montage—rolling in the autumn leaves, juggling oranges, playing touch football in Central Park. At one point they interrupt the movie and play themselves in real life, checking out a recording session with Norah Jones for the movie soundtrack, with Ms. Poehler’s Parks and Recreation cohort Adam Scott and John Stamos from Full House as sound engineers. None of this makes one bit of sense and only drags out the movie long enough to stir up some business at the outrageously overpriced concession stand.  

But wait. When Joel drives to the country to meet Molly’s parents they turn out to be Nazis. They break up, Molly sleeps with a nerd at Joel’s office and then turns up at her own wedding altar dressed like Groucho Marx. Joel goes back to his ex-girlfriend (Cobie Smulders, from The L Word and the abominable How I Met Your Mother), then when he dumps her, she humiliates him by confessing that she faked all of her own orgasms. “You and I are like rain-proofing on a wooden deck—finished!” Say that again? “I’m not who you think I am,” she taunts, and then turns into—are you ready?—Judge Judy! I mean, are these people from another planet? Nobody says anything like real people actually talk. In a disastrous attempt to send up the kind of movie language you get in dreadful Hollywood TV sitcoms, the movie becomes the very thing it’s trying to ridicule.  

Under the circumstances, it also decimates the dignity of a lot of TV personalities who think they’re in on a private joke. Ms. Poehler has a way with one-liners, but has yet to prove she can sustain a real role. When Judge Judith Sheindlin insists her orgasms are real, all you can do is wince. And the riveting Christopher Meloni, who made the dumb mistake of walking out of his career-defining role on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit to pursue a movie career that still has not happened, has an embarrassing scene in which he can’t unzip his way out of a tight superhero costume in time to make it to the toilet.

It goes on and on without a redeeming grace note, compiling every cliché you’ve ever seen in every stale TV sitcom since the invention of sound. As Milton Berle used to say, “Have you had enough already?” They Came Together is as amusing as a knee replacement, and as fresh, witty and clever as a Howdy Doody monologue. Color it gone. Rom-com Send Up ‘They Came Together’ Is the Very Thing It Wants to Ridicule