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Dustin Putman

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They Came Together  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by David Wain.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black, Michael Murphy, Kenan Thompson, Jack McBrayer, Ken Marino, Teyonah Parris, Zandy Hartig, Noureen DeWulf, Michaela Watkins, Randall Park, Erinn Hayes, Lynn Cohen, Skylar Gaertner, Jeffrey Dean Morgaan, Maureen Mueller, Zak Orth, Adam Scott, Michael Shannon, John Stamos, David Wain, Norah Jones, Judy Sheindlin.
2014 – 83 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language and sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 3, 2014.
It is a sad day and age when the most prominent spoofmakers around in the twenty-first century are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the tone-deaf, non-dynamic duo responsible for destroying the dignity of slapstick comedy with such chuckle-free, soul-damaging washouts as 2007's "Epic Movie," 2008's "Disaster Movie," and 2013's "The Starving Games." Alas, there have been so many terrible examples of this comedy subgenre (let's also throw some shade toward 2013's "Scary Movie 5" and "A Haunted House" and 2014's "A Haunted House 2") that it is sometimes far too easy to forget about its achievements. No matter how many times they are seen, the old-school Abrahams/Zucker magic that is 1980's "Airplane!" and 1988's "The Naked Gun" never stop being laugh riots of ace comic timing, outrageously sly sight gags, and ingenious so-dumb-it's-smart writing. Would there ever be a parody worthy of the trail these guys blazed? As it just so happens, a cheerful successor has arrived in the form of "They Came Together," a genuinely clever, frequently uproarious romantic-comedy spoof from writer-director David Wain (2012's "Wanderlust") and co-writer Michael Showalter (2001's "Wet Hot American Summer," also directed by Wain). When jokes are flying fast and furiously at a pace of roughly ten per minute, there are bound to be some misses along the way. The hits, though, are the majority, delivered with go-for-broke relish by a whale of an ensemble led by Paul Rudd (2013's "Admission") and Amy Poehler (2008's "Baby Mama").

The plot is like something right out of a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan love story—with a few key twists. Having dinner with married friends Kyle (Bill Hader) and Karen (Ellie Kemper), the sweet-natured, lovably klutzy Molly (Amy Poehler) and nice-guy beau Joel (Paul Rudd) decide to weave the tale of how the two of them came together. She owned a NYC candy shop called Upper Sweet Side. Her business was suffering—it may have had something to do with her rule to give all proceeds to charity—and she feared it was about to be bought by the Candy Systems & Research conglomerate that loomed behind her store. Joel, as it turns out, worked for CSR. This conflict of interest spelled disaster early on, but they should have known there was something special between them the second they showed up to their friends' Halloween party in matching Benjamin Franklin costumes. Discovering that they shared an appreciation for "fiction books" was a surefire sign, too.

"They Came Together" is so insanely over-the-top it cannot be taken seriously, and yet at its core is a relationship that is both charismatic and winning. Like Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty in "Airplane!" or Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley in "The Naked Gun," there is an irresistible chemistry between Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler that keeps the viewer caring. Wain and Showalter prove unexpectedly adept at dealing in rom-com conventions and then tweaking them in such a way that (1) tickles the viewer's funny bone and (2) makes one think about how tried and true and enduring said clichés and traditions have been through cinema's history. Raunchy in spots but never mean-spirited, the movie's tone is overwhelmed by the joy that Rudd and Poehler bring to their roles.

In a voluminous cast playing the supporting parts of coworkers, significant others, and best friends and basketball buddies who are on hand to only talk about the protagonists and their love life, a few, like Melanie Lynskey (2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower") as Molly's pal Brenda, are underused. Others are dynamite, from Cobie Smulders' (2013's "Safe Haven") hilarious reading of Joel's cheating, perpetually aloof initial girlfriend Tiffany (Cobie Smulders), to the consistently invaluable Ellie Kemper (2014's "Sex Tape"), whose Karen gradually tires of sitting through Molly and Joel's tangled, never-ending story of how they met.

"They Came Together" (a double-entendre title if there ever was one) misses out on the obvious third-act "racing-to-the-airport" trope and concludes in the final minutes on a note that is decidedly less than happy-go-lucky. What comes before this, however, is so very exuberant and fun that it's easy to forgive the movie's missteps. Physical comedy, one-liners, background gags, a trying-on-clothes montage, an interlude into the recording studio with Norah Jones as she records an original song for the movie, and even a choice use of English subtitles all add up to a sly, knowledgeable wink of a comedy that knows and loves the genre it is aping. "They Came Together" proves that spoof humor can still be quick and funny, and not have to consistently reach for the lowest common denominator. The wait was worth it.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman