erik lundegaard

They Came Together
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They Came Together (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Are movie spoofs a greater indictment of the movies or of us?

Take those action-hero scenes, parodied to perfection in “The Other Guys,” in which all-too-human protagonists are allowed to do impossible feats like jump off rooftops, arms and legs pinwheeling, and survive by falling into bushes. Hollywood whips up scenes like this but we ingest them. And if enough of us ingest them, then Hollywood whips them up again. Ad nauseum. Until they’re parodied to perfection in movies like “The Other Guys.”

Written byMichael Showalter
David Wain
Directed byDavid Wain
StarringPaul Rudd
Amy Poehler
Cobie Smulders
Ed Helms

But when we laugh at these parodies, are we laughing at Hollywood and the stupid movies it makes, or ourselves and the stupid movies we see? That we need?

“They Came Together,” from writer-director David Wain (“Role Models,” “Wet, Hot American Summer”), is a spoof of romantic comedies, particularly the New York-centric, Nora Ephron rom-coms of the 1990s. It’s not bad. There are movies that are trailer-rich and movie-poor, in which the movie never lives up to the promise of the trailer, but this is the opposite. The trailer kind of sucks but the movie isn’t bad. I laughed anyway.

It helps that its biggest target is one of my least-favorite movies of the 1990s.

You’ve got candy

Remember “You’ve Got Mail”? Kathleen (Meg Ryan) runs an upper west side independent bookstore, “The Little Shop Around the Corner,” while Joe (Tom Hanks) is the scion of a bookstore chain, Fox & Sons, that’s about to put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s living with a philandering techie, Greg Kinnear, while he’s incomprehensibly sleeping with Parker Posey, with whom he has zero chemistry. Then they connect via this new thing: the internet. He’s “NY152” and she’s “shopgirl.” They meet in a chat room, so they don’t know that each is the person the other hates. Until they do. Which leads to the happy ending: She’s put out of business, sure, but becomes a successful children’s book author, so his business practices are forgiven. And they’re together and in love. Or something like it.

In “They Came Together” (great title, btw), Molly (Amy Poehler) runs an upper west side candy shop, “Upper Sweet Side,” where she actually gives candy away to the kids, while Joel (Paul Rudd) is a top executive at CSR, Candy Systems and Research, which is about to open a huge megastore across the street from Molly and put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s pursued by Eggbert, the accounting dweeb who doesn’t realize the small things that make her her, and who wears douchey scarves everywhere (Ed Helms), while he’s with Tiffany, the vixen who’s almost never out of lingerie, and who just doesn’t love him the way he needs to be loved (Cobie Smulders). As in:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I admire your spirit.

And:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I love Saturdays.

After Joel’s arch-nemesis at CSR, Trevor (Michael Ian Black), wins both the promotion and Tiffany, the bland, stable friends of our protagonists, Bob and Brenda (Jason Mantzoukas and Melanie Lynskey), try to set them up. At first it doesn’t take. Then it does. Then they’re in love. And then no. But really yes! Will they get together for the final reel? Can Joel win her back or will she marry Eggbert? Etc.

The framing device for all of this is dinner out with another couple, Kyle and Karen (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper), where each goes over their “how did you two meet” stories. For Kyle and Karen, it takes 10 seconds. For Molly and Joel, this movie.

A Cup of Joel

Wain nails most of the stupid rom-com bits:

  • She’s cute but a klutz, so female moviegoers won’t feel threatened.
  • He’s Jewish, but in a “nonthreatening way.” The movie keeps repeating this.
  • She’s got a beautiful black assistant (Teyonah Parris), who has no life of her own, and who gives her relationship advice.
  • He’s got friends, with whom he plays basketball in the park on weekends, who do the same.
  • It’s always autumn in New York.

I love the idea of a candy megastore. I love the stupid business meetings Joel attends, around the long oval table with the high-rise view of Manhattan, led by the suspenders-wearing boss (Christopher Meloni), who, in the final reel, is won over to Joel’s humanitarian plea even as he fires the more ruthless Trevor. I love the awfulness of the name Trevor, and the snootiness of the name Tiffany. I love the stupid wish Joel has: to someday open his own coffee shop called “A Cup of Joel.” I love what happens to this dream.

But we also get stuff that’s not particularly funny: the boss shitting himself at the costume party; the ex-husband (cameo: Michael Shannon) who gets out of jail and comes gunning for Joel; the Groucho glasses; the dead body in the leaves.

And is it too dated? Wain and Michael Schowalter wrote the screenplay in 2002 but it wasn’t picked up until 10 years later. They wrote it in the wake of Nora Ephron’s biggest successes but it’s being released two years after her death.

But it sure as hell beats another rom-com.

—June 14, 2014

© 2014 Erik Lundegaard

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