If Airplane! and You’ve Got Mail went on a blind date, got liquored up, and had a baby…that baby would look like David Wain’s rom-com spoof They Came Together. Making its world premiere on Friday night at Sundance and adding some star power to the tail end of the festival, the silly send-up of formulaic Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks meet-cute movies and their ilk reunites the gang from Wet Hot American Summer — with some new faces sprinkled in.
Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer had its debut at Sundance 13 years ago. And it’s good to see that Wain hasn’t grown up much since then. They Came Together feels like a movie made by a guy who still thinks like a 13 year old and that rapid-fire Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker sight gags and “Don’t call me Shirley”-style puns are the height of comedy gold. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that some of his old pals have become really famous since his cult summer-camp flick came out in 2001.
The film kicks off in typical genre style with Paul Rudd’s Joel and Amy Poehler’s Molly on a double date with Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper, recounting how they met. Rudd explains how if it were a corny movie he’d be the not overtly Jewish, handsome leading man. Molly adds that she’d be the adorable klutz leading woman. From there, it’s an 82-minute rat-a-tat riff-fest on every cliche you’ve ever seen Nora Ephron and company commit to celluloid.
Molly owns a small-business candy shop with a quirky, punny name (Upper Sweet Side); Joel works for a ruthless candy conglomerate that wants to put her out of business. Molly’s a single mom; Joel’s just been jilted by his icy girlfriend. But when they meet, it’s love-hate at first sight. How could it not be? They’re both dressed like Benjamin Franklin for a Halloween party…and they both like “fiction books”!
Some of Wain and cowriter Michael Showalter’s gags are real groaners. But most mildly land near the target, and a few hit the bullseye. It doesn’t hurt when you have folks like Rudd and Poehler selling them. Plus, when you’re throwing this much spaghetti at the wall, some of it’s gotta stick, right?
With a cast that includes Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Chris Meloni, Max Greenfield, and Michael Ian Black, They Came Together is never quite as laugh-out-loud funny as you want it to be. But if you’re a fan of Wain’s knowing brand of sophomoric slapstick silliness, his “When Joel Met Molly” satire will send you into “I’ll have what she’s having” fits of ecstasy.