'They Came Together' Review: When Too Much Comedy Isn't Enough

They Came Together, directed and co-written by David Wain, is a madcap, off the wall, comedic send-up of the romantic comedy genre that goes so far over the top, you won't believe it. The cast is a who's who of comedy, from stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler to supporting actors Melanie Lynskey and Jason Mantzoukas, all the way down to scene stealers like Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper. There are a lot of laughs, an ambitious premise and I think a lot of people are going to like the movie. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people.

I may, however, grow to be one of those people. The brilliance of Wain's comedy is that it can be so unexpected and off-putting that sometimes time and familiarity can make a movie funnier than it feels on the first viewing. However, on my first viewing, I felt They Came Together tried to be shocking so many times, and failed more often than not, that I couldn't get into it. It's so incessantly obsessed with the next joke, it skips everything in-between.

Wain co-wrote They Came Together with Michael Showalter, which is the same creative battery that powered Wet Hot American Summer. They Came Together feels very similar to that film but, if you can believe, it goes even further in search of comic moments. The main story is the relationship between Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler). Each are coming out of relationships and get set up by their mutual friends. From there, we follow as they meet, fall in love, break up, and make up.

Honestly, that paragraph might represent more story than Wain and Showalter were even concerned with. The whole film feels like an episode of Saturday Night Live with the same characters just moving from set to set, from one wild premise to another. There's no need for real story; the question is "how fast can the filmmakers try to do something crazy?" That includes some super-funny commentary on the tropes of the romantic comedy, as well as some solid comedic performances, but everything feels disjointed. While one sequence will be incredibly hilarious, the next could be super awkward, followed by something gross, something eye-rollingly dumb, then back to funny. Nothing ever flows.

Trying this kind of ambitious humor to story ratio is certainly commendable but it ruins any sense of balance. Wain and Showalter are so fixated on how to surprise the audience, they forget to add anything in the way of an interesting story, emotion or character. And without at least one of those things to latch onto, it's hard to care what happens next. That's the beauty of a show like Saturday Night Live. If you don't care about what's going on, you know it'll be over in four minutes. Here, you have 80 minutes of the same characters doing different sketches and if you don't connect immediately, it doesn't work.

Even the framing of the film stops the audience from finding an emotional thread. The whole thing is told as one big flashback, so any drama that may have been derived as to how or why the pair get together is cut off at the pass because we already know what happens. It gets twisted a bit but still, just another example of how a comedy works better when there's also some drama.

But maybe that was Wain's point with They Came Together. Maybe the film was just an elaborate attempt was to make a movie that is non-stop jokes, seeing where the line is between audience annoyance and delight and thereby subverting their expectations of a romantic comedy. Whether it was or wasn't though, it didn't work for me.

I think They Came Together has a lot going for it. Everyone is really funny, it has some big laughs and is a great idea on paper. I think it'll enjoy a nice life as a cult classic. Unfortunately, it's so concerned with being shocking and outrageous that it never made me care.

/Film rating: 4 out of 10

They Came Together played the Los Angeles Film Festival earlier this month. It hits theaters, and on demand, June 27.