The quest for a new take on the romantic comedy has been a vague Hollywood inclination since Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer (2009) ‘reinvented’ the genre by daring to implant a male character in the leading role. David Wain’s Sundance offering They Came Together (2014) exhibits an enthusiasm for the task in this spoof of the genre that’s saturated so heavily in self-parody that it literally eats itself alive. Wain’s foray into rom-com cannibalism sees leading actors Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd (the new Ant-Man) stampede through a lexicon of the genre’s clichés before wildly throwing them back in our faces shrieking, “You didn’t see that coming, did you?” Unfortunately, for the most part we did.
Set in an over-sanitised New York City, the film is told in flashback, beginning with a classic montage of the city followed by graceful descent, Woody Allen style, upon a bustling Manhattan restaurant. Here, Molly (Poehler) and Joel (Rudd) are dining with another, equally pristine New York couple, to whom they tell the story of how they met, broke up, and got back together. Poehler, best known to UK audiences as Leslie Knope in the hit sitcom Parks and Recreation, embraces the quirky female lead with big-eyed vigour, her allegiance to the clichés of her narrative destiny illustrated with exaggerated, clumsy optimism. When an evil capitalist conglomerate threatens to buy out her picture perfect candy store, of course it’s Rudd’s charming but slightly dimwitted Joel who oversees the tricky takeover.
They Came Together’s euphemistic title is a pre-warning to the calibre of comedy available, which is too abrasive and reliant on gross-out vulgarity to feel like an intelligent and relevant satire. Whilst the film makes no claims to depth, it still lacks any real scrutiny of the genre that would take it beyond this level. The magnetism and sentimental substance apparent in Wain’s previous works like Role Models (2008) and Wanderlust (2012) is also noticeably absent. Fans of spoof comedy and gross out humour will no doubt harvest some fleeting moments of amusement from Wain’s latest, but anyone expecting more than a conveyor belt of hit-and-miss gags that never aspire to anything smarter than the sight of a man defecating himself in a superhero outfit should look away.