As everyone knows, there are absolute guides to writing scripts that are locked in a bunker in Hollywood. These are the giant Mad Libs-style forms that result in virtually every movie ever made. You might think to yourself, “Sure, the five or six basic plot steps of every romantic comedy are more or less the same,” but you’re thinking has already gone wrong. I mean the structure is already laid out for every scene. All the screenwriter does is fill in blanks, and every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen is exactly the same movie.
At least, that’s what They Came Together is going to try to convince you of, and it isn’t going to have a difficult time doing it.
It isn’t just the general dynamics of the characters, their meeting, their friends’ advice, and the plot trajectory, but every line and every scene. It also isn’t just that we’re copying and pasting an overall structure, because sometimes we aren’t even filling in the blanks, we’re just inserting the blanks. The trailer keys you in to the general theory here, with Joel’s (Paul Rudd) friends referring to each, and him, by way of the script notes that describe the scene, and Joel and Molly’s (Amy Poehler) shared love of fiction.
Where the “guide” tells the writer to use a meaningless scene of “lead spends time with his friends, and tries to embrace their differing viewpoints in making his decision,” They Came Together opts to forget filling anything in, and just says that at you. When it delivers our lead back to his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany (Cobie Smulders), it describes the crafting of a conversation which should lead Joel (you) to be suspicious of her motives, but here we just have her say that he should be. And again (because it’s an awesome example), where the guide insists that a fun way to have our leads connect is to take “a good or service sold at – insert chosen option for random encounter site – which is of such uncommon popularity that the appreciation of same by both parties is rare enough to elicit a feeling of kismet bond,” TCT just says, “screw it, use fiction books.”
I’d run through the plot of the film that sees Joel and Molly initially dislike each other, then connect, then fall apart, then… come together again, but I feel like the film would roll its eyes at me. You know what’s going to happen, and Rudd and Poehler are hoping that you’ll love to hate every moment of it… or whatever.
While there aren’t a lot of moments that are going to make you laugh out loud, the majority of the film works its comedy with just the right combination of sensibilities to keep you hooked. Luckily, it knows enough to mix things up, because the idea could get boring before long if we just ran through one vein. When telling you the guide notes begins to wear a little thin, we switch gears and take the outline to the most outrageous extremes. When we get to “boss does something embarrassing at party in order to bring employees together in shared dislike,” we not only make it the most embarrassing thing ever, we also skip past the bonding conversation and end the scene, basically as though we don’t understand why we’re doing anything we’re doing. The guide said to do it, so there it is. We get a similarly hyperbolic attack on rom-coms when we get to “parents expose themselves as decidedly awkward and/or socially inept in ‘meet the parents’ scene.”
When we need another switch to keep things interesting, we throw in a brilliant cameo, and again, largely just because that’s what we were told to do… and possibly because Rudd wanted to be on screen taking a swing at a certain someone.
The only real downsides to things are that it still runs the risk of feeling a bit repetitive in its effort, and Rudd and Poehler may seem to some to just be playing the same characters they always play. Of course, if you’re really of a mind to give the film the benefit of the doubt, you could probably persuade yourself that both of these things are purposeful and true to the overall theory.
Whether it really slays or not, it’s a welcome relief from things that think funny is something that comes out of not using your brain. It’s also nice to see this one from David Wain, who has a lot of great television behind him, but hasn’t brought things together well in a film since Wet, Hot, American Summer – which is why the marketing will mention that title, instead of his more recent ventures.
You’ve got to be ready for this one, but if the general idea doesn’t turn you off, this is likely to be one of your favorite comedies of the year.
They Came Together Gallery