I’m used to seeing Paul Rudd’s face on the side of buses. Every time an N155 whizzes past advertising his latest mortgage payment, the face besides his changes, though the films themselves are interchangeable dismal comedies. It would seem the supporting straight man to Steve Carell, Jason Segal, and Jennifer Aniston is steadily working his way through every bankable, overrated American comedian/comic actor of the moment and it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be grinning next to Jason Bateman, Kevin Hart or Jonah Hill on a double decker near you.
Rudd does this very well and he’s never less than charming in these charmless comedies, but he’s also a much better actor than those films allow him to be (see The Shape of Things and Prince Avalanche). Unfortunately he’s really slumming it at Sundance this year in They Came Together, opposite Amy Poehler, whose role in Baby Mama and pitifully unfunny attempts at co-hosting the Golden Globes are two dreadful examples of the dire straits of modern American comedy. The film is also Rudd’s fifth collaboration with writer-director David Wain, with whom Rudd made his best mainstream comedy Role Models and whose cult film Wet, Hot American Summer is one I’ll never understand the love for, no matter how many times I watch it.
Wain’s lower budget work, which also includes The Ten, is a typically baggy and hectic eighty minutes; a series of skits self-indulgently slammed together into something barely resembling a movie (the cast has more SNL comedians than it does film stars). In They Came Together, a romantic comedy spoof, in which Rudd plays a corporate executive who falls for the woman whose independent sweet shop is being priced out of business by his company, these tendencies are showcased at their most excruciatingly excessive. While the plot is obviously a distant second concern to rapidly delivered, random wisecracks, the quick-fire jokes misfire so often because the film lacks a comedic centre.
Walk Hard had Dewy Cox and Anchorman had Ron Burgundy, two larger-than-life comic creations around whom the barrage of disorderly buffoonery hung in orbit. All They Came Together has is a smuck Jew and a klutzy girl (whose parents are Nazis, see what they did there?) Yes, they’re supposed to be clichés, but they still need personalities. As Wain throws all he has at the wall and we watch it all slide humourously onto the floor, his disastrous attempts at sending up the genre are wholy reliant on excavating tropes from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, half of which are self-satirising, while the other half have already been mocked countless times by many of the knowingly ironic shows over the last decade of television. Which is exactly where this film belongs.
Sitcom exchanges and a syrupy score that are supposed to be pointing out the corniness of rom-coms, only serve to remind you how underserving this film is of big screen treatment. Lurching from one dusty cliché to the next (furniture thrown and ornaments exaggeratedly smashed in the heat of passion; a dressing-up-for-the-big-date montage; hailing a cab and being splashed by water), Wain pauses only to shit out a wearingly scatological extended gag about a soiled superhero suit.
Wain is funnier on the subject of sex, where They Came Together scores its few big laughs and also goes too far. There’s a montage of acrobatic sexual postions too ridiculous not to chuckle at, and the scene in which Rudd goes to meet the parents and the mother comes on to him is hilariously revealed as a test the parents put to all their girl’s new lovers. Provoking plenty of knee-slapping from the audience, the same can’t be said of the moment where Rudd finds himself suddenly aroused by his grandmother and things get physical. A bad taste jolt without a punch line, the horny transgression was met with stunned silence at the press screening.
The rest of it I watched in an absolute state of incredulity, many of the lines milked so much you ended up with cheese. The old “you can say that again” joke gets stuck on a loop so painfully extended you’re waiting for tumbleweeds, and coming home just as he’s being cheated on, Rudd is seemingly unable to hear the sounds of passionate lovemaking, strolling through every room in the house until he’s in the bedroom, shouting “Honey? I’m home!”, his girlfriend orgasming right in front of him. Like a terrible Saturday Night Live sketch and strung together just the same, They Came Together never does.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on April 26, 2014